Sunday, July 21, 2024

Not All Silver is Created Equally

June 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Silver Investment Basics

When investing in silver or buying silver bullion coins, on of the toughest choices to make is which type of silver to buy.  You may decide to buy silver and, knowing nothing about the different types of silver coins, end up with a sub-par investment with a premium price tag.  This is a big mistake so it is highly recommended you take a few minutes to educate yourself on the different types of physical silver and know what you are really paying for.  Your precious metals investment portfolio (and your pocketbook) will thank you for it.

First things first.  There are many different phrases associated with silver and these terms will usually tell you the purity of the silver.  It is important to know how pure your silver is (aka, how much silver the coins or bullion actually contain).  You don’t want to pay for pure silver if the coins contain anything less than pure silver.  This may sound like common sense but knowing what you’re getting can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Silver War Nickels
Don’t be fooled by the name.  Just because someone calls them “silver”, doesn’t mean “war nickels” contain as much silver as other silver coins.  In fact, a silver war nickel (minted in the U.S. from 1942-1945 and called “war” nickels because of WWII) contains only 35% silver.  The rest of the coin is made from copper and manganese.  So if someone tries to sell you an ounce of silver war nickels and wants the same price as an ounce of pure silver, you can be sure the investment is a poor one.  There’s no reason to pay for the full weight of the coin in silver prices when the majority of metal you receive is copper.  On the other hand, because of the low silver content in war nickels, their “premium” (the amount charged above and beyond the “spot price” of silver) is relatively low.  There just isn’t as much demand for the coins and thus coin shops and bullion dealers can’t charge much “extra” for them.

40% Silver Coins
These coins are just as the name implies – they contain 40% silver.  Thus, they should cost roughly 40% of what a pure silver coin can be purchased for.  I say “roughly” because each coin carries a premium, and the premium can be different depending on the type of coin, numismatic (collector) value, the purity (silver content) and many other variables.  Just keep in mind that if you buy 40% silver coins, the price should be reflecting of this.  The most popular 40% silver coins are U.S. Kennedy half dollars that were minted from 1965-1969.  (Note that other half dollars may contain more silver – as noted below, and some contain no silver at all)
I’d also like to mention “silver” Eisenhower dollars here.  While there are some silver “Ike” dollars that contain 40% silver – these were only made as “uncirculated” collector’s items or included in “proof” sets.  Ironically, a typical Eisenhower “silver” dollar contains no silver at all.  It’s mostly made of copper!

90% Silver Coins
Again, these coins are just as the name implies – they contain 90% silver.  This includes all U.S. dimes, quarters and half dollars minted before 1965.  It also includes silver Morgan Dollars and silver Peace Dollars (which were minted until 1935).  It’s interesting to note that the older silver dollars do not contain an ounce of silver, even though some shady individuals will try to sell them as “silver 1oz dollars”.  In reality they contain approximately ¾ of an ounce of silver, give or take depending on the condition of the coins.

Non-U.S. Silver Coins
Old coins from many different countries contain silver.  However there are way too many countries in the world and way to many silver coins with varying silver content to cover them all here.  Keep in mind if you buy a foreign (outside the U.S.) silver coin, the silver content is not always the same for each country and does not exceed 90% (since a pure silver coin is not considered durable enough to endure the abuse and wear of being circulated).

Sterling Silver
Here’s an interesting silver investment – sterling.  Some people confuse “sterling” silver with “pure” silver, and even more sellers are happy to let you make that assumption.  Be extra careful when purchasing sterling silver since many people will price it as high as pure silver.  Again, sterling silver is not pure silver, it contains 92.5% silver and the price should be reflective of this.

Pure Silver or Bullion Silver
Ok, now we’re up to pure silver, but even here not all silver is created equal.  Finding 100% pure silver is almost impossible, most likely because no bullion dealers want to guarantee the precious metal contains no impurities whatsoever.  Instead, most “pure” silver is 99.9% pure, meaning it’s about as good as you can get.  In most cases the word “bullion” and “pure” are interchangeable, but again there are unscrupulous individuals who want nothing more than to take your money so make sure to check the silver content before purchasing bullion silver.  Bullion and pure silver coins and bars usually have the purity marked right on the metal.
Canadian maple leaf silver coins have gone one step further and added another “9” to their purity.  They are guaranteed to be 99.99% pure silver by the Canadian mint.

I hope this overview and primer on coins and their silver content has been informative and given you more confidence in making a silver investment.  While we couldn’t cover all types of silver coins and their content, this should give you a head start and enough informational ammo to ensure you’re getting what you pay for with your next silver purchase.

Good luck and happy investing.

Phil Stewart is a coin collecting enthusiast who specializes in silver coins, bullion, and precious metals investing. His articles and investment help can be found on many blogs, e-books, and other trade publications. Phil runs the online investment site which promotes protecting and increasing wealth by owning physical silver.

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