Produced by the United States Mint for circulation prior to 1965, 90% Silver Coins were made from a combination of 10% copper and 90% silver. Nowadays, 90% Silver Coins are considered “Junk Silver,” a label that isn’t really appropriate for these coins because they have become such valuable collector’s pieces.
In 1965, the Public Law 88-36 was introduced and all American coinage was to be produced from 40% silver rather than 90%. This change took place as a result of the rising cost of precious metals, which made minting 90% Silver Coins a virtually impossible task for the U.S. Mint.
As you may have already realized, 90% Silver Coins are no longer in production, causing the varying designs to increase in value and collectability. Most of the coins also have historic value and fetch a lot more than their face and melt values.
While the “Junk Silver” name given to 90% Silver Coins might sound a little off-putting, it doesn’t stop collectors and investors from purchasing these coins. Quite the opposite, in fact, so we’re going to run through some of the most popular designs ever produced by the U.S. Mint.
Originally released in 1964, the Kennedy Half Dollar is not only a stunning 90% Silver Coin but also one of the most popular coins to come from the U.S. Mint. The coin was released just after President Kennedy’s assassination and only contained 90% silver in 1964.
The obverse side of the coin displays a wonderful profile of John F. Kennedy with the minting year, along with the inscriptions LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST. On the reverse is the Presidential Seal, featuring a bald eagle with outspread wings while holding a shield, olive branch and a cluster of arrows. Engravings include UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE DOLLAR as well as E PLURIBUS UNUM inscribed on a scroll coming from the eagle’s beak.
The U.S. Mint produced Peace Dollars over a total of 10 years between 1921 and 1928, then in 1934 and 1935. Interestingly, the Lady Liberty and eagle images used on the 90% Silver Peace Dollar came from a U.S. Mint competition winner called Anthony de Francisci and were the only two of his designs to ever feature on an American coin.
On the obverse of the Peace Silver Dollar is the profile of Lady Liberty wearing a pointed crown and with hair blowing in the wind. Inscriptions on this side of the coin include the mintage year, along with LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST. A stunning eagle sat atop a mountain with an olive branch in his claws can be found on the coin’s reverse. The eagle is also accompanied by the engravings UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM. Other Reverse inscriptions include ONE DOLLAR and PEACE.
Minted from 1878 to 1904 and again in 1921, the Morgan Dollar was designed by a talented Englishman called George T. Morgan. His designs for the coin were originally intended for a Half Dollar coin but U.S. Mint Director Henry Richard Linderman deemed them so beautiful he chose them for the Morgan Dollar instead. While these coins aren’t all that rare, some are more valuable than others. For example, Morgan Dollars minted in 1881 and 1885 in Carson City with a C mintmark are very desirable, as are the coins which feature an eagle on the reverse with eight feathers, rather than the seven feathers they later displayed.
All Morgan Dollars composed of 90% silver boast a left-profile of Lady Liberty on the obverse. She wears a Phrygian cap with a ribbon displaying her name LIBERTY. The obverse also features 13 stars, the minting year and the inscription E PLURIBUS UNUM. On the coin’s reverse is an eagle with IN GOD WE TRUST inscribed between its wings. He is sat above a wreath of laurel while clasping an olive branch and a cluster of arrows. Other engravings include ONE DOLLAR and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Debuting in 1932, the 90% Silver Washington Quarter was released in celebration of President George Washington’s 200th birthday. The program ran until 1964, and uncirculated coins with a Denver (D) or San Francisco (S) mintmark carry a higher premium and value than most other versions in existence today.
The obverse side of the 90% Silver Washington Dollar depicts a left-profile of President George Washington, an image designed by John Flanagan in 1932. He is joined by the mintage year, as well as the engravings LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST. On the reverse side is an American bald eagle facing forwards with his head tilted to the left. The eagle is clutching an olive branch with his right talon and some arrows in his left. He is also surrounded by the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM and, of course, QUARTER DOLLAR.
In 1947, the then U.S. Mint director, Nellie Tayloe Ross wanted to put the face of Benjamin Franklin on a coin and instructed her chief engraver, John Sinnock to come up with a design. Sadly, Sinnock died before completing his artwork, so Gilroy Roberts was given the task of completing the Franklin image. First minted in 1948, the 90% Silver Franklin Half Dollar was regularly struck until 1963. Featuring one the most popular Americans who ever lived, the coin is now an incredibly sought-after piece of history.
The coin’s obverse displays the portrait of Benjamin Franklin with hair hanging loosely down his neck. When it comes to inscriptions, the word LIBERTY can be found to the top of the obverse side, with the year of minting just below Franklin’s chin and IN GOD WE TRUST towards the bottom on the coin. On the reverse are the Liberty Bell and a tiny picture of an eagle. The bell has a crack and is encircled by the markings UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE DOLLAR. To the left of the bell is the engraving E PLURIBUS UNUM.
The Walking Liberty Half Dollar containing 90% silver was released to the world in 1916 and continued being produced by the U.S. Mint up until 1947. However, there were some years when the coin wasn’t issued, such as in 1922, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1930, 1931 and 1932. The coin boasts history and exceptional beauty, which is why so many numismatists and investors are attracted to it.
On the obverse of the 90% Silver Walking Liberty Half Dollar is a full-length image of Liberty wearing a robe that’s being blown by the wind, with the sun to her left. She is carrying branches of oak and laurel with one hand stretched out in front of her. Liberty is surrounded by the year of minting and also the engravings LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST. The reverse side of the coin features an eagle perched on a mountain crag with a mountain pine beside him with the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE DOLLAR. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM can also be found on the reverse.
U.S. Mint chief engraver, Charles Barber was responsible for designing the Barber Dime, hence the coin’s name. However, he wasn’t the designer the Mint originally considered for the coin. The Mint wanted to run a competition but none of the invited artists took up the offer of producing artwork because they deemed it unfair that only the winner would be awarded a cash prize. As a result, Barber was put in charge of creating the images.
The Barber Dime was minted from 1892 to 1916. Typically fetching over one million dollars, the Barber Dimes minted in 1894 in San Francisco are the most sought-after of them all. This is because only 24 were ever minted and only 9 coins are around today. On the obverse of the 90% Silver Barber Dime is the right-profile of Lady Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap and a headband that is inscribed with the word LIBERTY. She is surrounded by the markings UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the date is positioned under her neck. The reverse side is less detailed with ONE DIME engraved in the middle and encircled by a wreath composed of wheat, corn and oak leaves.
Like the Barber Dime, Barber Quarters were minted between 1892 and 1916. The 90% Silver Barber Quarter was also named after its creator Charles Barber, the U.S. Mint’s chief engraver at the time. Early versions of the Barber Quarter that were produced at the San Francisco Mint tend to sell for hundreds of dollars and are considered must-have pieces among serious silver coin collectors and enthusiasts. As they are treasured by their current owners, these older coins are hard to find.
On the obverse of the Barber Quarter is a right-profile portrait of Lady Liberty. She is encircled by thirteen stars and wears a crown made from an olive branch and a headband with the inscription LIBERTY. Other engravings include IN GOD WE TRUST and the year of issue. The reverse side features an American bald eagle with an olive branch in one talon and arrows in the other. There are thirteen stars above the eagle’s head and a scroll in his beak which is marked with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. The phrases UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and QUARTER DOLLAR are also found on the coin’s reverse.
Designed by Adolph Weinman, the 90% Silver Mercury Dime was produced by the U.S. Mint from 1916 to 1945. The coin’s name comes from the obverse image of Lady Liberty, which many felt looked more like Mercury, the Roman god. We should also mention that there are some primary mint dates that are highly sought-after by collectors, investors and dealers. These dates include the 1916 and 1921 Mercury Dime minted at the Denver Mint displaying the D mintmark.
The obverse side of the Mercury Dime is the controversial image of Lady Liberty, inspired by Mercury. She is wearing a Phrygian cap with signature wings over her curled hair. The word LIBERTY has been inscribed on this side too, as well as IN GOD WE TRUST and the coin’s mintage year. On the coin’s reverse is a fasces entangled by some olive branches and the coin’s ONE DIME value. The image is joined by the engravings UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM.
While some 90% Silver Coins aren’t that rare, others are extremely scarce and have special appeal to collectors across the globe. Take the Barber Dime for example. Only 24 coins were minted at the San Francisco Mint in 1894 and there are only 9 of these coins to have survived. This rare coin will always be worth a lot of money, regardless of condition.
The commonly found 90% Silver Coins are generally more affordable and still great for adding value to your silver holding. Unless you’re looking for coins that are rare and rich in history, you only really need to concern yourself with the .900 pure silver content. When it comes to the more readily available 90% Silver Coins, the value of the coin you choose will depend on its age and condition.
With so many different 90% Silver Coin designs to choose between, it’s easy to enhance and expand you’re your personal collection or portfolio. Whether it is the Washington Quarter, the Kennedy Half Dollar or any other silver coin containing 90 percent silver, Capital Gold Group can help you to acquire your most-wanted pieces. Feel free to reach out to discuss an order or for more information about any of our featured products.