Silver coins and bars

Traditionally, silver has been considered less prestigious than gold. This distinction between the two precious metals is even observed at the Olympics: first place gets a gold medal, second place silver. Despite this long-standing trend, silver coin collecting is a thriving industry that attracts dedicated numismatists, investors, and amateurs alike.

One reason for the enduring popularity of silver coins is their relatively low value. Because they’re generally worth less than gold, they are accessible to a larger number of buyers. A lot of people who feel intimidated by gold prices tend to find silver coins more suitable for their budget. In addition, many silver coins are noted for their physical beauty and/or historical importance, which makes them attractive both as practical investments and as keepsakes for private collections.

The business of buying and selling silver coins is quite active in the 2020s. If you have some silver coins you want to sell, it’s likely that you can find a buyer without too much effort. Before you begin, however, there are a few things you should know about the business of silver coin selling. To aid you in your journey, we’ve assembled the following guide to the world of silver coin collecting, how to sell silver half dollars, and more.

A Brief History of Silver Coin Collecting

old silver coin and magnifying glass

In the U.S., silver coins have circulated and been accepted as currency since the Colonial days. A large variety of coins could be found in those days, some of domestic origin, others from overseas. The most popular silver coin in this era was the Spanish milled dollar, or “piece of eight,” which had a huge influence on the development of America’s national currency. The U.S. dollar was inspired by, and originally intended to be on par with monetarily, the Spanish dollar (monetarily speaking).

In these early days, it was common to literally cut up a Spanish milled dollar into smaller “bits” of lesser value that were used as legal tender. These coins could be divided into eight equally sized bits, each worth one-eighth the value of the full dollar. This is why quarters came to be referred to as worth “two bits”—a phrase that is widely recognized even today.

The Coinage Act of 1792 marked a big turning point in the history of U.S. coins. Aside from establishing a national mint in Philadelphia, the Act also essentially created the currency system that, with various modifications through the years, we still have today. It mandated the manufacture of U.S. copper, silver, and gold coins in various denominations. Silver coins were to be issued in denominations of half dime, dime, half dollar, and dollar. The Act also set the proportional value of silver to gold at 15 to 1—that is, 15 units of silver would be worth 1 unit of gold.

Furthermore, the Act introduced design standards for the new coins. It required that U.S. coins bear an image symbolic of liberty and the year the coin was manufactured. In addition, the reverse of each coin would show the image of an eagle and the words “United States of America.”

The first silver coins that complied with the requirements of the Coinage Act appeared in 1794. They had a fineness of .8924 (and this standard would remain until it was raised to .900 in 1837). Even after the Coinage Act, foreign silver coins were allowed to remain in circulation for a while, as the new Mint struggled to issue sufficient quantities of U.S. coins. In fact, the Spanish dollar was considered legal tender in the U.S. until 1857.

The famous Gold Rush of 1848 led to a surplus of gold in the marketplace. This had the effect of driving up the value of silver coins and causing a shortage of them as bullion collectors took advantage of the shift in demand. A 1853 law reversed this trend to some degree by allowing the public to turn their silver bullion into silver dollars. That lasted until the Coinage Act of 1873, a.k.a. the Fourth Coinage Act, put an end to the practice.

Another important milestone in the history of silver in the U.S. is the 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada. Over the next few decades nearly seven million tons of ore, much of it silver, was extracted from the Comstock.

Over time, U.S. coins gradually phased out the use of silver in their composition. The first coin to do so was the five-cent piece. Starting in 1866, it was manufactured with copper and nickel rather than silver. This new composition inspired the name by which the coin has been known ever since: the nickel. The dime and the quarter eventually switched to a copper-and-nickel composition as well, in 1965. That same year, the half dollar reduced its silver content from 90% to 40%. By 1971, no newly minted U.S. circulating coins included any silver at all.

American silver a collection dollar of 1990

American Silver Eagle bullion coins are still being produced by the U.S. Mint, and remain highly sought-after collectibles.

Popular Silver Coins

united states silver coins silver eagle

Many silver coins fall into the category of what is informally called “junk silver.” These are coins that have no value as collectibles. That does not mean that junk silver coins are worthless, merely that they are worth only their face value or melt value. Investing in old 90% silver “junk” coins is quite common, and for a lot of people it is their preferred way of dealing in this precious metal.

Some silver coins do have substantial value as collectibles, due to their historical importance or other unusual characteristics. What follows is a quick look at some of the more well-known silver coins that are traded on the collector’s market.

Seated Liberty Half Dollar

Issued from 1839 to 1881, the Seated Liberty half dollar is a perennial favorite among silver coin collectors. The obverse of the coin, designed by noted engraver Christian Gobrecht (1785-1844), features the Goddess of Liberty seated upon a rock. This design also appeared on other coins issued by the U.S. Mint during the middle years of the 19th century, including the half dime, the dime, the quarter, and the silver dollar.

Various modifications were made to this basic design over the years, such as the addition of arrows and rays on the reverse (beginning in 1853) and the inclusion of the motto “In God We Trust” (beginning in 1866).

Many Seated Liberty half dollars can be purchased for under $100, but certain rare varieties can sell for substantially more. The most valuable of these silver half dollars is the so-called “1853-O Without Arrows.” Only four are known to exist. In 2012, one of these rare silver coins sold for $218,000 at auction.

Capped Bust Half Dollar

United States coin half dollar 1824

The Capped Bust half dollar was made from 1807 to 1839. Its obverse design, created by German immigrant John Reich, shows a side profile view of Lady Liberty, wearing a Phrygian cap. The Capped Bust design was quite popular and it was shared by the dime (beginning in 1809), the half dime (from 1829), and the quarter (from 1815) during this era.

In 1836, the Capped Bust half dollar underwent a slight reduction in weight and size. It also acquired a reeded edge. Capped Bust coins of both varieties are in high demand among collectors.

Among the most valuable of these coins is a rare variety of the 1839 Capped Bust half dollar where the letters on the reverse are noticeably smaller than normal. This variant is worth around $500,000 in mint condition.

Flowing Hair Dollar

The Flowing Hair dollar was the very first dollar coin produced by the U.S. government, and as you might expect, it is quite valuable these days. Designed by Robert Scot (1745-1823), who served as Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, it features a bust of Lady Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse.

This rare coin was produced for only a brief span of time: The first ones were minted in 1794 and the last ones in 1795 (when the vast majority were made). Relatively few of these coins have survived to the present day. Out of the 1,758 Flowing Hair coins created in 1794, only about 140 are still around. One of these scarce 1794 coins sold for $7.8 million at auction in 2010.

American Silver Eagle

old silver coin

First released in 1986, the beautifully designed American Silver Eagle is the only silver bullion coin currently issued by the United States Mint. Its obverse design is a modification of the Walking Liberty half dollar (1916-1947), which features a full-length depiction of Lady Liberty in mid stride, carrying oak and laurel branches. Although it has a face value of $1, it is worth more than the spot price of its silver—sometimes far more.

Unlike the other collectible coins we have mentioned in this section, American Silver Eagles are quite common. Literally hundreds of millions have been produced since the first ones appeared in ’86. If you want to get into coin collecting, Silver Eagles aren’t a bad way to start, as it’s easy to find them at a reasonable price.

Quite a few coin collectors make it their mission to get a Silver Eagle from every year. 1996 Silver Eagles are especially sought after due to their relative scarcity. Only 3.6 million were made in ‘96 (as compared with over 30 million for some years). 

Reasons to Buy Silver Coins

US silver dollar coin

Now that you have a brief history of silver coins, along with information on some of the most popular silver coins in the marketplace, you might be intrigued to purchase more coins to add to your collection.

There are quite a few reasons why so many people buy silver coins, such as:

Monetary value – Silver, like gold, has an enduring value as money. It does not require another party to provide this value, as is true of stocks and bonds.

Hedge against inflation – Silver of all kinds has traditionally been regarded as a good choice for investors who wish to protect themselves against inflation and the decrease of monetary purchasing power that results from it. Silver is also noted for routinely outperforming gold in bull markets.

Relative price stability – Silver tends to fluctuate in price less dramatically than gold, which makes it easier for investors to have an accurate sense of the value of their investment.

Liquidity – Silver coins can be easily converted into cash when necessary.

Portability – Unlike a lot of valuable materials, silver coins are small and lightweight. As a result, they can be easily transported from one location to another whenever needed.

Imperviousness to hacking – Another key benefit of a physical asset like silver coins is that it can’t be stolen via electronic means. No hacker can spirit away your coins.

Nostalgia – Silver coins are popular among history buffs who appreciate the associations of these collectibles with past eras.

Affordability – Silver is less expensive than gold and a number of other valuables you could name. This puts most types of silver coins well within reach of the average investor.

Potential for high ROI – Silver is widely considered to be undervalued today and will likely rise significantly in price before long.

Can be added to IRAs – Silver coins that have at least a 99.9% purity (.999 fineness grade) can be included in an individual retirement account.

The good news for people who own silver coins is that it’s not difficult to find a purchaser who is willing to make a deal at a reasonable price. These coins have traditionally been popular among collectors, from professional investors to casual buyers.

Determining the Value of Silver Coins

looking at old silver coin through magnifying glass

Whether you plan on buying or selling silver coins, understanding a coin’s value is imperative to making a wise investment decision. As a buyer, you do not want to overpay for your purchase. As a seller, you want to receive the maximum payout for your coins based on the silver value and the demand for that particular coin’s condition, scarcity, and grade. 

With that said, silver coins can vary widely in value. At minimum, any silver coin is worth its “melt value”—that is, the content of its silver in the marketplace at any given time. But there are other factors that can substantially increase the value of a particular coin.

So, without being a professional coin collector, how can you determine the value of your silver coins?

The most important factors that determine the value of your silver coins are:

Amount of silver – How much silver is in the coin? In general, the greater the silver content relative to other metals in the coin, the greater the coin’s value.

Mintage number – How many of these coins were struck by the mint? Please note that the mintage number does not necessarily reflect the number of coins that have survived to the present day.

Number of existing coins – This is the number of coins that still exist. Due to the historical tendency to melt down silver coins for their bullion value, some coin issues are more rare than their mintage number suggests.

Rare characteristics – “Error coins”—created by a mint production mistake—frequently command far higher prices.

Condition – What is the current physical condition of the coin? Bear in mind that, generally speaking, it is inadvisable to clean old collectable coins in an attempt to increase their value. Doing so can easily cause the coins to lose a significant amount of market value by inflicting scratches or removing varnish.

Demand – How many collectors are interested in these coins? In some cases, common silver coins are more highly sought-after than relatively rare issues, and this differential in demand will be reflected in the market price.

Grade – Coin grading is the process of determining the condition of a coin, and it’s a standardized method for both amateur and professional coin collectors. You can utilize grading scales, such as The American Numismatic Association’s (ANA), to research and compare your coin’s characteristics, flaws, and condition. 

For example, a silver coin graded a 1 is the lowest grade and is considered in poor condition. These coins are not damaged beyond recognition but are likely badly corroded or scratched. On the other hand, a silver coin with a grade of 45 is in a condition that is considered choice extremely fine. These coins are very sharp, with very little wear at the highest points of the coin. 

It’s a good idea to look up information about your coin online to get a sense of its current value. Websites like PCGS are very comprehensive, covering virtually every issue of United States coins ever minted. You can view high-quality images, pricing estimates, and other relevant information for your particular silver coin.

If you’re still uncertain whether you have a valuable collectible or merely “junk” silver or simply do not have the time to put into the research, you should consider seeking the services of a professional appraiser or coin dealer.

Tips on Selling Silver Coins

American dollar in hand of numismatist and magnifying glass

Once you have decided to sell your silver coins, figuring out how to go about it can be a daunting task. Some questions you may be pondering include:

  • How to sell silver half dollars?
  • What is the best way to sell silver coins?
  • How much can I sell silver coins for?
  • Where can I sell old silver coins?
  • How to sell silver quarters?
  • How do I determine my silver coin’s grade and condition?

The good news is that you have multiple options when it comes to selling your silver coins. The bad news is that not all of these options are equally appealing.

One convenient way to sell your old silver coins is to visit a local pawn shop or jewelry shop, as these types of businesses are usually interested in buying valuables of this nature. Unfortunately, these establishments will frequently refuse to give you anywhere near the true market value of your coins.

There are several reasons why this happens, the primary one being the need to offset all the expenses that go along with running a brick-and-mortar store, such as rent. Sometimes these businesses are working with outdated information, as silver coins are just one of the many types of merchandise they deal with. That’s why you tend to get less than you really deserve for your silver coins when you visit these establishments.

Another issue arises when your silver coins are in poor condition. Many dealers will outright refuse to make an offer on damaged or otherwise defective coins. (And, as we’ve noted, attempting to clean these kinds of coins yourself isn’t advisable.)

So what can you do to maximize your chances of getting good money for your silver coins? The internet provides an alternative that you shouldn’t overlook. Working with an online buyer like Cash For Gold USA increases your chances of getting the payout you deserve, with only minimal effort on your part.

Benefits of using online buyers include:

Bigger payouts – Online buyers have fewer business expenses, which means they can afford to offer more money without cutting into their bottom line.

Up-to-date appraisals – While pawn shops often have outdated market data, online buyers who specialize in these valuable metals are more likely to have accurate information.

Fast cash – An internet-based buyer will often provide an offer within 24 hours of receiving your silver coins.

Expanded selection of dealers – If you want to sell your silver coins to a brick-and-mortar store, you’re pretty much limited to your immediate geographic area. By contrast, online buyers can come from practically anywhere.

Expanded selling options – Online dealers are often willing to accept the kinds of coins—such as those with severe damage—that jewelry shops commonly reject.

Convenient process – When you sell your coins to an online buyer, you don’t have to spend hours in traffic—you can conduct your transactions entirely through snail mail.

Now that you have a comprehensive overview of buying and selling silver coins after reading this guide, you should have more tools in your arsenal to maximize profits.

Cash For Gold USA is the ideal buyer for your old silver coins. To date, we have served thousands of customers and paid out millions of dollars. We also handle gold, platinum, and palladium valuables. Contact us today!