What is 90% Silver?
All major U.S. coins before 1965, excluding the nickel and penny, contained 90% silver content. The term “90% silver” is a short way for investors, collectors, and buyers to refer to pre-1965 dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollar coins, as a group. The term also serves to differentiate these coins from post 1964 coinage. Typically these coins are not considered for their numismatic value, and they are often traded for their silver bullion content in $100, $500, and $1000 face value rolls or bags.
Personal Story About 90% Silver Coins
This is the beginning of an in-depth, or “ultimate” guide – if you will, about 90% silver coins. Investing in 90% silver coins is not only a black and white subject of values going up and down over time on a spreadsheet.People choose to collect these coins for personal, practical, and even historical reasons. Often, the stories that lead one to collect come from generations passed and can include milestones and memories from the lives of their loved ones. I’d like to share one such story, and how I discovered the true value of 90% silver coins. It begins with an anecdote from more than 70 years ago.
Born on March 8th, 1926, Billy Gene Lemons grew up in the tiny village of Ringgold, Texas. During World War II, he was drafted into the US Army and stationed in Munich, Germany. While in the army, he received medals of honor for distinguished service as a sharpshooter and marksman.
He also achieved the rank of corporal, serving as a Military Policeman. While in Munich, he along with others, had the responsibility of guarding the headquarters of visiting dignitaries and VIPs who were there to oversee the occupation forces. One of those dignitaries was General George S. Patton.
Corporal Lemons’ military stint was not the stuff of epic movies, but to his family and friends, he was a hero deserving of all the honor and respect due the men and women who served in World War II. Decades later, Billy loved telling his family the story of how the troops were instructed not to eat food given to them by the locals – for fear of being poisoned by Nazi sympathizers.
On one occasion, while riding a troop train, a resident family of the occupied city had pitched a large chunk of cheese on the train in appreciation. As commanded, the soldiers were not going to eat it, but one man could not resist. He cut off a big piece and began to enjoy it.
A few minutes later the train traveled into a tunnel. As it became pitch black, the same soldier screamed, “Damn it boys, don’t eat any of that cheese! I’ve gone blind!” The squad knew better, and had a big laugh as they came back into the sunlight.
Billy Gene Lemons was my grandfather. In September 1990, my grandfather passed away as the result of a brain tumor. I was nine years old at the time. Among the many things left to my father were a variety of foreign and domestic currencies my grandfather had collected during his time in Europe and throughout his life.
The currencies included German marks and an old bank bag containing approximately 100 half dollar Kennedys, most of which were from 1964, making them 90% silver. Billy Gene Lemons knew what most didn’t at the time, which I believe is illustrated in this quote.
“Lenin was right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.” – John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946), Economist
Billy had been keeping every half dollar he got his hands on since the early 1970’s. First, because JFK was a great and short-lived US president, these coins would have historic value. Second, he collected them because he knew they were worth more than their face value due to the debasement of government-issued coinage throughout history.
90% Silver Over 25 Years
According to a 25-year chart, the average price of silver was $8.73 an ounce in September of 1990. That would put a value of about $316 on my grandfather’s collection of Kennedy half dollars at the time of his passing.
Inflation-Adjusted Spot Silver Price Chart
My father gifted those half dollars to me in 1995. A few years later, a thief would steal them all. I’d like to believe the thief ignorantly spent them for their face value of $50 instead of selling them for their silver content.
After I realized they were gone, I was overcome with grief. It wasn’t until April 2011 that I realized their silver content. In 1999, I was devastated because of the loss of sentimental value in the collection, but in 2011 I was devastated by the financial loss due to the current spot value of silver. How much was lost?
It was definitely not the $50 face value of 100 half dollar coins! The loss of value included the rise to $52.26 an ounce spot price of silver in April 2011. Those circulated, but good condition, coins contained approximately 36.2 troy ounces of silver, a metal value of $1,890 in April 2011. That doesn’t count the premium, which could have been as much as 5% on top of spot.
Even in January 1980, when my grandfather was still alive, the inflation-adjusted melt value would have been $3,947. That’s not chump change! Before they were stolen, I didn’t have my grandfather there to yell at me for the stupid mistake of showing off our collection.
That was an expensive and gut-wrenching lesson learned. What started as an inherited coin collection of sentimentality, ended with an understanding of the market value of 90% silver coins.
Other than through inheritance, why would someone go out of their way to own 90% silver coins alongside or as an alternative to silver bullion? I’m glad you asked.
Why 90% Silver Coins?
From a big picture standpoint, let’s just say the reasons for buying 90% silver coins range. Here are reasons for owning and investing in 90% silver coins.
1. Face Value
Some aren’t comfortable with rounds without a face value, not because they don’t know the value, but because buyers might not. Familiarity and trust is key when trying to liquidate silver bullion. However difficult, it is still easier to counterfeit a silver bar versus a coin, thus 90% coins could hold more weight (no pun intended) with buyers, since they hold a recognizable and accepted face value that is legal tender by law.
2. Sentimental Value
Unless a relative was a serious collector and owned graded coins in protected certified slabs and you knew this, you might come across a stash that was built up for a rainy day after he or she had already passed on. Along with capturing an era of time, you’re also reminded of that loved one by this collection.
3. More Silver Per Coin
Some choose to hold 40% silver coins. These coins tend to have a lesser premium and be less rare because they are more recent in strike year. Although they are less rare and easier to find, it takes more than twice as many coins to bare the same amount of silver. Some choose to hold 90% for this reason.
4. Premium Arbitrage
In times of shortages, 90% coins can fetch higher premiums than silver bars. Often investors hedge by buying different types of precious metals. One can take this even further by buying different classes of silver within bullion to profit from the arbitrage, or at the very least keep a balance when price dips come.
5. Perceived Disasters
Historically, spikes in buyback premiums for 90% coins have come in months leading up to a perceived crises. When have premiums been up to 50% on 90% silver? The months leading up the year 2000, due to the Y2k bug scare. Premiums were also up in mid-2012 when there was uncertainty about the Mayan calendar “running out.” Some are pointing toward 2020 as being another pivotal year. No one can predict the future, but perceived crises and fear mongering will continue and, as they say, perception is reality.
6. Smaller Divisible Increments
This is the worst-case scenario more on fringe, but in a true crisis situation, survivalists like to keep 90% silver around because of their divisibility, making them easier to use if basic needs like food and supplies have to be traded on the run. The 90% silver coins are great for the sort of dystopic, post-apocalyptic, Marshall Law scenario of Hollywood storylines we seem to have been bombarded with over the last fifteen years.
90% Silver Coin Types
Most Popular 90% Silver Coins
With 12 different kinds to choose from, which should you go with? Here are three of the most popular 90% silver coins with links to where you can buy them.
Collectors, buyers, and those that don’t consider themselves either love Kennedy Half-Dollars. Similar to the September 11th attacks, which occurred on 09/11/2001, you’ll often hear those of particular generations ask, “Where were you when John F. Kennedy was shot?” Assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on 11/22/1963, the grassy knoll and a museum that tells of his death is the #1 tourist attraction in the city. Morbid as well as fascinating because of the conspiracy and unanswered surrounding the incident, it’s easy to see why 1964 Kennedy Half-Dollars are the most popular 90% silver coins.
Since we still deal in dimes with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States of America’s face on them, it’s not a far stretch to own older versions that happen to have silver content. The familiarity factor is a draw in their popularity. If you think about it, most that collect or invest have been using dimes to buy gum since they were five or six years old. Plus, dimes make the math easy – 10 make a dollar as far as face value. See the chart above for their silver content.
Quarters are also quite common, thus another popular 90% silver choice. Quarters have bared the same face of George Washington, the 1st President of the United States of America, since 1932. With several generations familiar with the look of the “quarter dollar” as they were once called more often, this coin is the third most popular when it comes to loading up on 90% silver coins.
Neil Lemons represents JM Bullion, a leading online retailer of bullion headquartered in Dallas, Texas. In 2016’s esteemed Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States, Inc. magazine ranked JM Bullion the #1 fastest-growing precious metals company in the nation, as well as the nation’s 40th fastest-growing company overall.
For more investing guides like this one visit: www.JMBullion.com.