Silver vs. Clad Coins
At a Glance
Silver coins are easily distinguishable from less valuable clad coins by their appearance and intrinsic value.
After 1964, the United States made a crucial change in the composition of its coinage. In 1964 and easier, United States dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollar coins were minted using an alloy consisting of 90-percent silver. The amount of silver in each coin was roughly equivalent to the coin’s face value. By 1965, however, a dwindling supply of silver and resulting increase in silver’s value made it necessary to change the metal composition of coins so all precious metals were removed. People began to hoard silver coins and most were removed from circulation permanently.
Today, the price of silver hovers between $20 and $20 per Troy ounce, giving silver coins significant value. A silver United States quarter, for example, is worth over $4.00 in its silver value alone. If you are interested in finding silver coins of your own, it’s important to know the differences between silver vs. clad coins and how to find them. We hope this article will make this easier for you.
Pictured at top: United States Silver Eagle
Characteristics of Silver vs. Clad Coins
The coins as mentioned earlier have a few innate differences in their basic composition, which sets them apart. The Clad coin for instance, is a layer of copper that is sandwiched in between two layers of primarily nickel and zinc. Almost all US coins like the Dime, Quarter, and Half Dollar are clad coins and most of them have an alloy of copper and nickel in between layers of silver. You can identify these coins easily by looking at them from the side; between two silver-colored layers, you should see a distinct copper-colored core. Except for certain rare dates and minting errors, the majority of these coins are not worth significantly more than their face value.
When viewed from the side, coins minted from 90-percent silver do not have a visible core. These coins are dated 1964 and earlier except for half dollars, the composition of which was changed to 40-percent silver from 1965-1970. Half dollars minted from 1971 to present are clad, like quarters and dimes. When you see a silver coin in person, you’ll never again mistake one for a clad coin; the color is distinctly different, as is the sound a silver coin makes when touching another coin.
Beginning in the mid-2000s, the value of precious metals increased drastically due to concerns about economic conditions and the stability of world currencies. Gold spiraled to the point where few people could afford to buy it in significant quantities, which led to a renewed interest in silver. Silver, which was only worth around $5.00 per troy ounce just 10-15 years prior, finally peaked at $48.48 per ounce in 2011 before dropping to around $20-30 in 2012-2013. United States silver coins have the following approximate values, based on a silver price of $23.61 per ounce:
- Dime (1964 and earlier): $1.70
- Quarter (1964 and earlier): $4.27
- Half Dollar (1964 and earlier): $8.53
- Half Dollar (1965-1970): $3.49
Finding Silver Coins
When it became apparent that future United States coins would not contain silver, it was obvious that silver coins would soon be worth more than their face value. As a result, people removed them from circulation. In any given handful of change, there is virtually no chance of any coin containing silver. For this reason, some people try to skew the odds in their favor by buying coin rolls from banks. If you purchase a large quantity of rolls, you greatly increase your chance of finding silver coins — and clad coins can simply be spent as normal change, so there is no chance of losing your investment.
If you want to hunt through rolls in search of silver coins, you may have the best chance with half dollar rolls. Because people rarely receive half dollars in their change, they have less opportunities to find silver coins and remove them from circulation. In addition, it isn’t common knowledge that half dollars retained some of their silver composition through 1970. However, you shouldn’t purchase coin rolls with the expectation that you will become rich. Silver coins are rare, and a roll consisting entirely of silver half dollars would still be worth under $200. Nevertheless, roll hunting is a fun hobby for many and one of the few forms of “treasure hunting” in which there is virtually no risk.