I hope this guide will give you all the information you need to begin buying junk silver coins, even on a limited budget.

This guide will explain:


Please feel free to email me at: moc.liamg@pamalset if you have any questions or suggestions.


I do not sell silver or work for a company that sells silver, I'm just trying to be helpful. The information presented in this page is not intended to be investment advice. The silver values listed on this page are not guaranteed to be accurate.

© 2012-2013 by Kevin Wilson

What Is Junk Silver?

All U.S. dimes, quarters, half dollars and silver dollars minted 1964 and earlier contain 90% silver and are known as "junk" silver coins because they don't have numismatic value to collectors (they're not rare, old, minting mistakes, etc.)

Nickels minted during WWII (1942-1945) are known as "war nickels" and contain 35% silver. Various other coins are 40% silver, but I won't discuss them.

Sorry, the following values could not be acquired:
Silver spot price
The page will be incomplete.

Why Buy Silver?

I believe silver is a great investment / store of wealth. Consider the performance of the following investments over the past 10 years:

Compound Annual Growth Total Growth
Silver 18.2 % 433 %
Gold 15.4 % 318 %
Nasdaq 10.7 % 175 %
Dow Jones 6.1 % 81 %

Based on silver @ $4.50/oz, gold @ $290/oz, Dow Jones @ 10,000 and Nasdaq @ 1,800 in 2002 and current silver price of $24.00 /oz, gold price of $1213.35 /oz, Dow Jones @ 18,133 and Nasdaq @ 4,964 .

Silver is a great way to diversify your savings and hedge against inflation. Silver is significantly cheaper than gold and easily bought in small quantities. You do not have to pay management fees, advertising fees, loads, etc. when investing in junk silver. Silver will also be more practical as a form of currency if the dollar collapses.


A short list of important terms that will help you buy junk silver.

Bullion: Silver coins and bars that are not intended to be used as currency.

Face Value: The $ value printed in the coin. For example, 1 quarter = $0.25 face value.

Rounds: Silver bullion in coin form. Only legal tender can be called a "coin".

Spot Price: The current value of 1 troy ounce of silver. The spot price changes constantly throughout the trading day.

Troy Ounce: Silver is weighed in troy ounces. A troy ounce is slightly heaver than an ounce.

Buying Guide

Where To Buy Junk Silver

The best places to buy small amounts of silver are local coin shops. Most coin shops will have some junk silver and silver bullion for sale. The employees at the coin shop should be courteous, patient and helpful - if not, find a better shop. If you can't find a local shop another option is eBay (check seller feedback and shipping costs). For larger amounts, I have an acquaintance who has successfully completed several orders with CMI Gold and Silver. They offer good prices, service, selection and inventory. They also hold an "A+" rating from the Better Business Bureau.

Paying For Silver

Small amounts of junk silver are usually sold in $1 face value increments. $1 face value contains about 0.7 ounces of silver, so the price for $1 face value is usually about 70% of the spot price plus the dealer markup. The price is usually stated as a dollar amount times face value. For example, "$30 times face". At that price, 10 dimes will cost $30 or 8 quarters will cost $60. Larger amounts of junk silver is commonly sold by the bag. Bags will typically contain $50, $100, $250, $500 or $1,000 face value.

Silver Eagle coins can be purchased individually, in a tube of 20 coins or a "monster box" which contains 500 coins. Silver Eagles and bullion are often sold by the ounce and priced according to the spot price plus a dealer markup. For example, a 1oz Silver Eagle coin may be "$3 over spot". If the spot price happens to be $30, the Silver Eagle will cost $33.

You should generally expect to pay around a 5% dealer markup over spot price for junk silver and bullion (excluding silver dollars), and about 10% over spot for silver dollars and Silver Eagles.

Some states collect sales tax on junk silver, and some states don't. I'm not going to wade into the tangeled web of state tax laws!

Occasionally you may notice a significant discrepancy between the spot price and the price at your local coin shop or on eBay. It's important to realize the spot price is set by day traders, hedge fund managers, etc. trading futures and "paper" silver contracts on Wall St. The average person doesn't trade on Wall St. and shouldn't expect to pay Wall St. spot prices. You're dealing with Main St. prices, which are subject to different market forces and often a bit higher than the spot price.

An example of a typical junk silver transaction...

Buyer: Hello, I'd like to buy $1 face value of junk silver.

Seller: Sure, spot price is $30 today, so the junk silver is $22.50 times face.

Buyer: I'll take it! Here's your $22.50. I think I'd also like a Silver Eagle.

Seller: Certainly. The eagles are $3 over spot, so they cost $33 each.

Buyer: Great. Thank you!

What To Avoid

This is not investment advice.

I avoid any coin that has value beyond the silver content (collectible, numismatic or historic coins). I also avoid bars and most bullion (except Silver Eagles) because they're not as recognizable or trusted. I avoid silver jewelry or silver antiques because they demand a higher premium. I'm generally not very interested in 35% and 40% silver coins. I'm not a big fan of Sterling silver. I do not invest in silver funds, stocks or certificates. I believe it's important to have real, physical silver. I do not recommend keeping your silver in a bank deposit box (unless you have a significant amount). The banks may be closed when you need access to your silver. In the past, gold and silver has been confiscated by the government (Executive Order 6102 in 1933). I also don't recommend waiting for silver prices to fall significantly before buying. In the past, local coin shops have sold out of all junk silver and bullion in a matter of hours. In this case you'll probably have to resort to large, online retailers.


Use the following calculator to determine the value of 90% junk silver coins.

Spot Price: $
Silver Value
Silver Weight
(troy oz)
Face Value
Nickels: $ $
Dimes: $ $
Quarters: $ $
Half Dollars: $ $
Dollars: $ $
Total: $ $
Shipping ($) $ Add shipping or fees
Markup (%) $ Add dealer markup

To calculate the value of silver in a coin, multiply the silver weight in troy ounces (not the coin weight) by the silver spot price. For example, A junk silver quarter has a silver content of 0.1808 troy oz. If the silver spot price is $10/troy oz then the quarter's value is $10 * 0.1808 = $1.81 (You may want to factor in 1% loss of silver due to circulation as this calculator does). The seller will often add 5% markup.

Note: 14 dimes = 1 troy oz silver.

Junk Silver Coin List

The following is a list of the most common American junk silver coins:
(click images to enlarge them)

Junk Silver Coins Details
coins coins Morgan Dollar
Minted: 1878-1904, 1921
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.7735 troy oz
Note: Often sells for a few dollars over silver value due to collectability.
coins coins Peace Dollar
Minted: 1921-1928, 1934-1935
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.7735 troy oz
Note: Often sells for a few dollars over silver value due to collectability.
coins coins Barber Half Dollar
Minted: 1892-1915
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.3617 troy oz
Note: Often sells for a few dollars over silver value due to collectability. Barber half dollars, quarters and dimes had the same face image.
coins coins Walking Liberty Half Dollar
Minted: 1916-1947
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.3617 troy oz
Note: Same face as the American Silver Eagle bullion coin.
coins coins Franklin Half Dollar
Minted: 1948-1963
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.3617 troy oz
coins coins Kennedy Half Dollar
Minted: 1964, 1965-1970
Silver Content: 90% (1964), 40% (1965-1970)
Silver Weight: 0.3617 troy oz (90%), 0.1479 troy oz (40%)
coins coins Barber Quarter
Minted: 1892-1915
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.1808 troy oz
Note: Barber half dollars, quarters and dimes had the same face image.
coins Standing Liberty Quarter
Minted: 1916-1930
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.1808 troy oz
Note: The date was printed too high and is often worn off. 1916 version had Lady Liberty with a bare breast. She was covered in subsequent years.
coins coins Washington Quarter
Minted: 1932, 1934-1964
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.1808 troy oz
coins coins Barber Dime
Minted: 1892-1916
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.0723 troy oz
Note: Barber half dollars, quarters and dimes had the same face image.
coins Mercury Dime
Minted: 1916-1945
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.0723 troy oz
coins coins Roosevelt Dime
Minted: 1946-1964
Silver Content: 90%
Silver Weight: 0.0723 troy oz
coins War Nickel
Minted: mid 1942-1945
Silver Content: 35%
Silver Weight: 0.0563 troy oz
Note: A subset of the Jefferson nickel series. Counterfeit and non-silver nickels lack the mint mark above Monticello's dome.

Silver Bullion

Silver bullion rounds and bars are another option. They're generally 99.9% pure silver. They may be minted by the government (Silver Eagles) or by a private mint (rounds and bars). I recommend staying with the government minted coins because they are more recognizable and trusted. Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver, but is seldom used in coins and bullion.

Silver Bullion Coins and Bars Details
coins coins Silver Eagle
Minted: 1986-current
Silver Content: 99.93%
Silver Weight: 1 troy oz
Note: The official American silver bullion coin minted by the U.S. Mint.
coins coins Sunshine Minting Silver Round
Note: This is a privately minted silver bullion round.
coins Engelhard Silver Bar
Note: This is a privately minted silver bar.

Counterfeit Coins

In the past junk silver has not been widely counterfeited because of it's relatively low value, but as silver prices continue to rise counterfeit silver coins are becoming a concern. You should be at least a little bit suspicious of every silver coin regardless of it's age, condition or value - even if it's in an "official" NGC or PCGS holder. Buying from a reputable, local dealer with a long history of good business practices and customer service is the best way avoid counterfeit coins. Be especially cautious when buying on eBay. If you don't have a trusted seller there are a few simple tests you can perform to avoid many counterfeits.

For me, the quickest and easiest way to identify counterfeits is to compare them with a known good coin of the same type. You can balance the coin on the tip of your finger then tap it with another coin and listen to it ring. Note the pitch and length of ringing and compare it to a known good coin. You can also flip the coin in the air (as if playing heads or tails) and listen to the ring. Only perform this test over carpet or soft surfaces.

A careful visual comparison can also spot some counterfeits. A magnifying glass should be used to inspect the date, mint mark and other details for size, shape, depth, etc. Also check for green-ish oxidation, especially around the edges. Silver will turn black as it oxidizes. The rim should be even around the entire circumference. Be sure the front and back are properly lined up.

Some counterfeits can't be detected by ringing or visual inspection, in this case the coin can be weighed with a high precision scale and the dimensions measured with calipers. A device called The Fisch can help verify the dimensions and weight of various coins.

Silver coins should not be magnetic. Very few counterfeits will be magnetic so this test won't offer much protection. However, the test is so quick and easy, it's worth a try.

An acid testing kit can be used to determine silver content. The acid is fairly inexpensive, but it will only test the surface. The test can be fooled by plated coins and bars unless you file or cut the surface. The acid can go bad after it's about a year old. It will etch the surface of the metal being tested. The damage can be minimized by only using a very small amount of acid in an inconspicuous location and wiping it off as soon as possible. A little polishing will usually fix the damaged spot. The acid can be dangerous, so handle it with care and keep it out of the reach of small children.

When buying online, be suspicious of unusually high shipping costs. Often a counterfeiter will not refund shipping costs, so even if the counterfeit is returned they still make money. Be suspicious of junk silver in uncirculated condition - it's probably either counterfeit or being sold at a significant markup due to it's good condition. Both are good reasons to avoid it. Finally, if the price seems too good to be true - it probably is!

Grading Coins


I'm not a coin grading expert.

Coins are graded on several properties, but wear is the most important when dealing with junk silver.

coin grades

Most junk silver coins will be in "good" to "very good" condition. Some "fine" coins can be found. I generally avoid "good" or lower grade coins. Many sellers will claim that the condition of junk silver coins is not a factor because they are not collectible and they're valued only for their silver content. However, I believe a coin in better condition is generally more desirable, and therefore more valuable.

Cleaning Junk Silver

silver dime baking soda foil silver dime

Silver coins can be cleaned with baking soda and aluminum foil.

Note: I do not recommend cleaning any coin that has collectible value. The tarnish on these collectible coins is actually "patina". Removing the patina can significantly reduce the collectible value of the coin.

You can see the silver coin before cleaning. This is the typical condition of a badly tarnished junk silver coin.

Fill a non-metallic container with enough hot water to cover the coins. Plastic containers work well. Very hot water will work better than cool water. I try to get the water as hot as possible, but not hot enough to burn.

Mix in baking soda until no more will dissolve. The amount of baking soda in the water is not critical. Generally, more is better. Any kind of baking soda will work. Baking powder is different and will not work. If you don't have baking soda, you can try salt.

Place a piece of aluminum foil in the bottom of the container. The coins should make good contact with the foil. You only need a single layer of foil. I don't think it matters if the shiny side is up or down.

Sit the coins on the foil and wait a few minutes for the tarnish to be cleaned. The dime pictured was badly tarnished so it soaked a few extra minutes and I scrubbed it for 20-30 seconds with baking soda and an old toothbrush.

The dark colored tarnish on silver is silver sulfide. It forms when silver is exposed to sulfur. Aluminum also reacts with sulfur. Fortunately, aluminum is more prone to react with sulfur than silver. By placing silver in contact with aluminum, the sulfur migrates from the silver sulfide to the aluminum to form aluminum sulfide. As the sulfur leaves the silver sulfide, it's converted back to silver. The baking soda in the water helps the reaction to occur.

You can see the same dime after cleaning. To make the dime really clean, rub it with a little baking soda. You can use an old toothbrush to scrub it.

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