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What Quarters are Silver? - Silver Quarter Years

US coin quarter dollar on one dollar bill.
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With the price of silver regularly increasing, it is a good idea to look through some of your change for coins that might contain more of the precious metal.

Actually, a lot of the coins you can find in circulation today have at least some type of silver content, and quarters, in particular, can prove to be valuable coins indeed.

Old coins with a magnifying glass in the background.

Numismatics is the study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, medals and related objects.

A Short History of Coins

The study of coins is also called the history of minting or even just the history of coin collecting. The history of coins can be identified from the ancient Greeks and Romans all the way up until the present day, and coins are highly correlated with economic history in general.

There have been some societies using coins as currency for well over 2500 years. Not everybody agrees about the first civilization to use coins, but most experts do think that the earliest coins were alloys because they formed stronger physical bonds, and they were also far less likely to corrode as alloys.

Coins are also a measurable way of defining value. They eventually became the easiest way of conducting business transactions because they are light and easy to carry. Ancient coins were quite similar to today’s ones. There were coins with profiles of great leaders or royal figures, and sometimes the coins showed scenes of special natural settings.

Even though other monetary systems are now emerging, such as cryptocurrencies, the original types of metal coins are still very much used in most countries for monetary and other purposes. These days, there is a wide range of different denominations of coins, so combinations can easily be used for all kinds of small transactions.

It is also interesting to note that when the price of precious metals rises above a certain level, the value of the metal in quarters can actually exceed the face value of the coin itself. The coin values when the price of silver is high can rise to many times higher than what they seem to be worth.

Looking More Closely at Quarters

If you live in the United States of America or Canada, a “quarter” is the name of the twenty-five-cent coin that is commonly found in circulation and in daily life. In actual fact, only certain types of quarters are made from silver, whereas other coins are sometimes composed of a variety of other metals.

For example, American Eagle One Ounce Palladium Proof and Uncirculated Coins are the collectors’ versions of the official United States Mint palladium bullion coins. There are three main US quarters which have been minted by the U.S. Mint with a composition of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper.

These include the Liberty Head “Barber” quarter, the Standing Liberty quarter, and the Washington quarter. We’ll take a closer look at these types of coins later in this article. The U.S. Mint issued these types of silver quarters from 1792 until 1964 with a wave of separate periods of production.

Throughout all periods of American numismatic history, silver coins have been minted with anywhere between 35 and 90 percent silver content. The term “coin silver” has been used to describe the types of coins minted with a 90 percent silver alloy.

The three original designs of silver quarters (the Liberty Head “Barber” quarter, the Standing Liberty quarter, and the Washington quarter) struck between 1892 and 1964 offer an affordable and easy way for new investors to start trading in silver. They can be easily found in circulation (with some notable exceptions) and they usually have very low premiums above the spot value of the silver they contain.

Variations to Modern Quarters

Many modern coins are made mostly from copper and nickel. Most quarters, nickels, and dimes today consist of a Copper-Nickel combination, called a Cupro-Nickel or Cupronickel. This is a cheaper way for the government to supply circulating coins at bulk rates, but there are also other important uses of Cupronickel in everyday use.

For example, Cupro-Nickel replaced pure silver for circulation because of the way that it resists corrosion and because it is particularly durable. In modern terms, the America the Beautiful Quarters Program is the U.S. 25-cent coin program, spanning 2010 to 2021.

The obverse (heads) side has the same profile of George Washington used on the quarter since 1932. The reverse (tails) features five designs each year that depict national parks and sites from all of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and even from some U.S. territories.

Junk Silver Quarters 

A different category entirely is the one that deals with the older coins. Circulated quarters minted before 1965, when most of the silver was eliminated in U.S. coinage, can sometimes be referred to as “90% silver” or “junk silver”. This term simply differentiates circulated coins in a wide range of conditions from the type of collectible coins which may be intentionally graded or show minimal degrees of wear and tear.

“Junk silver” is an informal term used in the United States, the UK, Australia, and Canada to refer to all silver coins in fair circulation which have no numismatic value and which are not collectible. The term only refers to the degree of the silver coin’s collectability, and not at all to the value of the silver they contain.

Junk silver coins are often priced at about the melt value, which refers to the “spot” or market price of silver multiplied by the amount of pure silver content in the coin. The lack of any high premium is because these coins can be found in huge quantities and this makes them uninteresting to collectors. 

Another thing that is useful about junk silver coins is their suitability for barter. If the US dollar were to completely tank, silver can be an excellent hedge for your investments. Fiat currency collapses are quite common, and the dollar would not be immune to this kind of thing.

The small, or fractional size, of 90% silver quarters makes them ideal if you find yourself having to trade coins for low-value items like groceries. The amount of demand from bullion investors is another matter entirely. Junk silver coins are extremely popular with silver investors because they offer a combination that is hard to get in other coins and with such easy portability.

The coins are official government tender and they can be picked up for a low cost. It is fairly easy to acquire these types of coins at auctions or coin shows, or even online through special coin distribution companies that can be found all around the country.

A good example of an investment coin is the 2020-W Uncirculated American Palladium Eagle. The United States Mint recently released this coin and six products recognizing Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park of Vermont.

The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller quarter can be found in rolls and bags at prices ranging from $19.75 to $49.25. Altogether, collectors snapped up close to two million of the quarters over the first weekend of their release.

Types of United States Quarter Dollars 

As we mentioned earlier in this article, three main quarter dollar coins have been minted by the U.S. Mint in the history of coins, and they include the Liberty Head “Barber” quarter, the Standing Liberty quarter, and the Washington quarter. We’ll now take a look at some of these coins in more detail.

The Liberty Head “Barber” Quarter

In 1892, the Liberty Head “Barber” quarter was introduced with all of the rest of the Barber series of coins, which included a half dollar, dime, and nickel. The designs for all four of the coins were created by Charles Barber, who was at that time the chief engraver with the United States Mint.

Few artists applied to design the coins since only the winner of the contest would be awarded a cash prize and no suitable design was chosen. Barber was chosen as the artist after this failed competition. The minting began in 1892 and the new coins were met with suspicion from the public, so the coins were actually replaced in 1916 after their minimum term expired.

On the obverse, the coins show the head of Lady Liberty (Barber’s design) as well as the inscription “United States of America.” The year of mintage is written beneath the portrait of Liberty. The denomination is stamped on the reverse side of the coin within a wreath. The coin weighs 6.25 grams with a 24.3 mm diameter. The silver content in each coin is 0.179 troy ounces, which allows for some regular wear and tear. 

The Standing Liberty Quarter

The Standing Liberty quarter was minted from 1916 to 1930. This was the coin that replaced the Barber quarter. Hermon Atkins MacNeil, a prominent sculptor, submitted the initial design. Standing Liberty quarters remained in production until 1930 when they were discontinued.

The Philadelphia Mint was the primary facility producing these quarters, but some of the coins were made in San Francisco and Denver. This coin has the same weight and size specifications as the “Barber” silver quarter. It is made of the same 90% silver, 10% copper alloy and contains 0.179 troy ounces of silver.

The obverse of the coin features a portrait of the Standing Lady Liberty facing the viewer’s right. There is a shield in her left hand and an olive branch in her right with the inscription “Liberty” above the portrait. On the reverse, the coin shows an eagle in flight.

The “United States of America” inscription is at the top and “Quarter Dollar” is at the bottom. The “E Pluribus Unum” inscription and 13 stars can be found on the reverse. 

The Washington Quarter

In 1932, the silver Washington quarter was introduced. Production on a large scale continued until the coins became copper-nickel alloy types in 1965. Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon chose the original design by sculptor John Flanagan.

The coin was introduced to the public on August 1, 1932, to mark the 200-year date since the birth of George Washington. Several minor redesigns were introduced before the coin was retired in 1965. In 1976, a special edition was issued to mark 200 years of the United States.

Since then, the coin’s design has been featured among several other special coin collections, such as the America the Beautiful series of coins. The original coin features a bust of George Washington on the obverse, with the inscriptions “Liberty” above the bust, the issue date below the bust, and “In God We Trust” to the right.

The mint mark can also be found on the right side. The reverse side shows a bald eagle with “United States of America” and “E Pluribus Unum” above and “Quarter Dollar”. 

Investing in Silver Quarters 

All coins up to 1964 were made with 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper. Investing in silver quarters is a great way for investors to get started with silver. Junk silver is a great option for silver investors. The coins command a small premium above the spot price of silver and are abundantly available.

Official US coins often carry higher prices, but Junk silver quarters are an exception. For those who simply want highly liquid and easy to trade silver at low cost, these quarters will be hard to beat. Junk Silver quarters were made until 1964 when the US mint switched over to copper-nickel alloy.

Along with junk silver dimes, they are one of the most affordable ways to buy silver bullion. There are three designs of silver quarter coins still widely available. Despite the “junk” nickname, these quarters are quite popular with investors and will always be easy to trade.

Which Other Types of Coins Are Silver?

If you live in the United States, you can sometimes find foreign silver coins in circulation. The most common ones are the 80% silver coins that come from Canada. Canadian 80% silver coins, including quarters, half dollars, and dollars, were mostly minted between the years 1920 and 1967. Before 1920, the 92.5% pure (.925 fine) sterling silver standard was used for all British coins.

You will also find some commemorative coins and proof sets issued by the US Mint. Limited quantities of these coins still contain 90% silver today. The most important thing to know is that all dimes, quarters, and half dollars minted in the USA by the year 1964 or earlier were made of 90% silver.

Remember this fact if you ever decide to buy or swap any silver coins. Some other coins like the Kennedy half dollar, the Eisenhower dollar, and silver dollars are also made of 40% silver. These coins can have very specific dates and the value of the coins is often determined by the dates that they were minted.

You can sometimes find coins like these at special coin shows and at certain types of coin dealers, and they can be the type of valuable collector’s items that many people are searching for.

Data analyzing in commodities metal market: the charts and quotes on display

As is the case with most commodities, the price of silver is driven by speculation, supply, and demand.

Using Silver Quarters as an Investment

It has become clear that silver quarters can be some of the best investments available today. The coins are easily portable and can be quickly exchanged for other goods of practical value. If you happen to find any silver quarters among your stash of change, be sure to hang onto those as long as you possibly can.

They might be one of your best hedges against inflation or a currency that loses value very quickly. Along with gold and platinum, silver is one of the most valuable precious metals that you can own. It is a good idea to have a small treasure chest in your home where you can toss all of your silver quarters whenever you find them. You never know how much value they might hold for you one day!

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All articles are provided as a third party analysis and do not necessarily reflect the explicit views of GSI Exchange and should not be construed as financial advice.

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