A New Direction for US Silver

Posted on 3/12/2019

The US Mint is now striking silver coins with a fineness of .999, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

The United States Mint will strike dimes, quarters and half dollars in .999 fine silver in 2019 for the first time. The last time the composition of the silver versions of these coins was changed was in 1837 — or 182 years ago.

Silver dimes, quarters and half dollars were struck in 90% silver and 10% copper for circulation from 1837 to 1964. Silver dollars were struck in the same composition, but the denomination was discontinued for circulation in 1935.

These two proof quarters were struck on planchets with the same 90% silver composition and 6.25 gram weight 100 years apart
Click images to enlarge.

When the US Mint issued its first modern commemoratives in 1982, the familiar 90% silver and 10% copper composition was selected. This same composition was also used when the US Mint began to issue dimes, quarters and half dollars in silver again for collectors in 1992.

American Silver Eagles, which were first released in 1986, and the America the Beautiful Silver 5 Ounce coins, which were first released in 2010, were given a 99.9% silver composition in an effort to appeal toward bullion investors. The 99.9% silver composition (or .999 fine silver) became the standard for mints around the world while the US Mint's 90% silver composition for its other issues became a relic of a bygone era.

Finally, in 2019 the US Mint elected to update the composition of all of its silver coins to 99.9% silver. The Apollo 11 Commemorative coins, which were released in January, were the first non-bullion US coins to be struck in .999 fine silver.

Click images to enlarge.

The quarters with the new composition were first sold in February in the America the Beautiful Quarters 2019 Silver Proof Set, while the dime and half dollar will be available in the Silver Proof Set 2019 in April.

The US Mint explained its change with this chart:

National Infantry (90/10 Alloy)
American Eagle Silver (0.999 Silver) Comments
Die Life (coins per die)
600 coins
1800 coins
3x better with 0.999 Silver
Scrap (Haze related)
14% Avg.
10% Avg.
4% better with 0.999 Silver
Customer Returns
2% Avg.
1.3% Avg.
0.7% better with 0.999 Silver
Downtime (Cleaning dies)
80x / day
20x / day
4x less downtime with 0.999 Silver

Data source: US Mint / Coinnews.net

As you can see, the Mint found numerous positive effects that would come from the switch to the new composition. Not included in this chart are the benefits of the streamlining of obtaining raw materials. The 90% silver blanks had to be specially produced as few (if any) other mints in the world still used that composition of silver. All of these effects will help the US Mint to save money during the manufacturing process.

As for collectors, this change means that the coins will be more beautiful than ever. Additionally, each silver commemorative and coin in the silver proof sets will have more silver than it did in the past. For example, the 2018 World War I Centennial Silver Dollar contained 24.06 grams of pure silver, or 0.774 troy ounces. Compare that to the 2019 Apollo 11 Silver Dollar, which contains 26.7 grams of pure silver, or 0.858 troy ounces.

The 2018 Silver proof sets are still available.

What this also means is that the 2018 Silver Proof set coins (and the United States Mint Limited Edition 2018 Silver Proof Set), which are still available at the time of publication, are likely the last 90% silver coins that will ever be available for purchase from the US Mint. Hurry up and order yours today, as they mark an end of an era for US coinage.

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