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Many people looking through their pocket change for valuable coins want to know when the U.S. stopped making silver coins.
Some people think the United States Mint stopped producing silver coins in the 1960s.
Others will tell you the U.S. Mint is still striking silver coins.
ANSWER: They both are!
The Disappearance Of Silver Coins In America
The U.S. Mint has a long history of striking silver coins, going all the way back to the early days after the mint was established in 1792.
Silver prices have always been in flux — but by the early 1960s, bullion prices had increased to the point that the value of silver in the circulating dimes, quarters, and half dollars was beginning to exceed the face values of the coins!
This led silver hoarders to start pulling silver coins out of circulation by the millions, causing a huge coin shortage.
The U.S. government couldn’t go on this way… The more silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars they struck, the more the public would simply hoard the coins.
In 1965, the writing was on the wall. President Lyndon B. Johnson advocated for and signed into action a law that required the dime and quarter to be struck from a copper-nickel clad composition. Meanwhile, the half dollar was to be made from a 40% silver-clad format. (These changes began happening in the latter months of 1965.)
Now, it’s important to remember that the U.S. Mint and U.S. government did not pull silver coins from circulation. The disappearance of silver coins was caused by the public literally removing them from circulation. And this took years before the bulk of silver coinage was all but completely gone from daily pocket change.
Some will tell you that silver coins were gone from circulation by the late 1960s and early 1970s. Others will say the date was later or earlier. It all seems to depend on what part of the country one was from and how sharp their observations were of the coins that passed through their pockets and purses.
Meanwhile, the last 40% silver Kennedy half dollars were struck in 1970, though these were all intended for distribution only in mint sets and proof sets.
But this was not the end of silver coins from the United States Mint…
The U.S. Mint Still Strikes Silver Coins
The first copper-nickel clad Kennedy half dollars began rolling off the U.S. Mint presses in 1971. That same year, the U.S. Mint launched the Eisenhower dollar.
While circulating versions of the Ike dollar were struck from copper-nickel clad, collector specimens were made in 40% silver clad. This was the case through 1976, by which time the U.S. was celebrating its 200th anniversary — celebratory cause for the quarter, half dollar, and dollar to sport special bicentennial-themed designs. Those 3 coins were all struck in both copper-nickel clad for circulation and 40% silver for collectors.
There was a hiatus on silver coinage for the next few years. But in 1982, the U.S. Mint revived its official commemorative coin program, which had been retired in 1954. The issuance of the 1982 George Washington half dollar marked the first time a commemorative coin had been made by the U.S. Mint in 28 years and the first 90% silver coin since 1964.
And things didn’t stop there. The commemorative coin program continued from 1982 on, expanding to include silver dollars and other kinds of silver coins.
In 1986, the U.S. Mint launched the American Silver Eagle, a one-ounce silver coin designed for bullion investors and coin collectors. Silver eagles continue to be struck today.
A few years later, in 1992, the U.S. Mint resumed striking 90% silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars for inclusion in special proof sets for collectors. Beginning in 2019, the composition of these silver proof dimes, quarters, and half dollars was enhanced to a .999-fine format, making these coins nearly pure silver. By that time, the U.S. Mint had also begun striking five-ounce silver versions of the America the Beautiful quarters, which kicked off in 2010.
The U.S. Mint continues striking a wide variety of silver coins for collectors, but none of these is released by the mint into circulation for use as money.
Fun Ways To Find Silver Coins Today
While the U.S. Mint hasn’t been releasing silver coins into circulation since 1970, that doesn’t mean you can’t get lucky and find an occasional silver coin floating around in pocket change. Many collectors have reported finding silver coins in circulation through diligent searching.
Here’s a list of all U.S. silver coins by denomination… and how much they’re worth.
These are some of the ways you might find silver coins in circulation today:
- Look through rolls of coins — Searching rolls of coins from the bank is a nearly surefire way collectors land silver coins from circulation, but it could take a while before you find your first silver coin this way. Some of the most successful searches are made looking through rolls of half dollars. However, rolls of dimes and quarters also yield the oddball silver coin from time to time. Don’t forget to look for silver war nickels, too! They’re made from 35% silver and are definitely worth looking for.
- Coin-cashing machines sometimes have silver coins in change return trays — There have been many collectors who report finding silver coins (and other interesting pieces) in the change-return trays of coin-cashing machines at grocery stores and big-box stores. This is because most of these machines in the United States count only modern copper-nickel coins and coins made from other compositions used today by the U.S. Mint. Therefore, silver coins are essentially rejected in the counting process — and many people depositing these coins forget to check their change trays after their transactions!
- Ask friends and family — Chances are you have people you know and love who might help you look for silver coins in their spare change. They might even have change jars, piggy banks, and other stashes they’ll be willing to let you look through for silver coins and other oddities.
Here are 6 clever ways to find old coins for free!
It’s going to be a challenge looking for and finding silver coins in circulation, but don’t give up — silver coin values make it all worth your effort!
I’m the Coin Editor here at TheFunTimesGuide. My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I’m a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I’m also the editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I’ve contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I’ve authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins (many of them with over 50K shares), and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!