Considerations in Buying “Junk” Half Dollars
Junk silver is generally defined as pre 1965 dated U.S. dimes, quarters and half dollars that were minted of 90% silver. When silver is sold as “junk” it is for its silver bullion value and not for any collectible or numismatic value. Junk silver is priced by calculating the amount of pure silver in U.S. dimes, quarters or half dollars and valuing it per ounce at a certain level above the melt value of silver. The level above melt value that junk silver will sell for varies depending on market conditions.
Junk silver is not sold by date or even the condition of the coins. Rather it is sold by face value. Prices are generally quoted in $1, $10, $100, $500 and $1,000 face value increments.
Amount of silver in Pre 1965 half dollars
Each of the silver half dollars pictured below contained .36169 ounces of pure silver when minted.* Three silver half dollars will contain 1.085 ounces of silver. A 20 coin roll ($10 face value) of silver half dollars will have 7.2338 ounces of pure silver.
Given that junk silver is generally bought and sold on the premise that it a silver bullion purchase, does it matter which silver half dollars you buy? The short answer is no, but there are differences among the different half dollars worth considering.
Kennedy Half Dollars (1964)
Ninety percent half dollars were minted for one year only. After 1964, Kennedy Half Dollars were minted of 40% silver from 1965-70 and contained no silver thereafter.
Recognizability: The Kennedy Half Dollar is easily recongnizable among many in the United States as it has the same design as Kennedy Half Dollars that still circulate (although are no longer minted for general circulation) today. 1964 Kennedy Half Dollars will be accepted almost universally by coin dealers for their silver content. Private citizens will also most likely accept them in barter situations, although there is the risk that some might not recognize that the 1964 half dollar is different than other dates. An easy way to show someone that a 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar is different than other Kennedy Half Dollars is by pointing out the copper line on the rim of the coins that does not exist on the silver 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar.
Collectibility/Mintage: Because nearly half a billion 1964 Kennedy Half Dollars were minted, there is no numismatic value assigned to circulated 1964 Kennedy Half Dollars. There are no rare or key dates.
Condition: Kennedy Half Dollars will generally be in the best condition of all the silver half dollars because they are of the most recent vintage and many were pulled from circulation for their silver content thereby reducing the time they were in circulation and the consequent wear.
Franklin Half Dollars (1948-1963)
Recognizability: While Franklin Half Dollars are well known by all reputable bullion dealers, many people under the age of 65 may have never seen a coin with Ben Franklin on it. In barter situations this may be an advanatage as the understanding that the U.S. used to mint its coins of silver, coincides neatly with the understanding that the coins back then would have had different designs.
Collectibility/Mintage: While there are no extremely rare Franklin Half Dollars, there are some dates that sell individually for prices higher than melt value. When one makes a bulk purchase of Franklin Half Dollars, one may get a few of these coins. The larger the face value purchase the more likely one might get slightly rarer Franklin Half Dollars.
Condition: Junk Franklin Half Dollars tend to exhibit wear greater than Kennedy Half Dollars, but it is relatively rare to find a Frankin Half Dollar so worn that the date is barely legible or missing.
Liberty Walking Half Dollars (1916-1947)
Recognizability: Liberty Walking Half Dollars are easily recognizable among bullion dealers and collectors. Only senior citizens might remember these coins, but younger bullion buyers will recognize the Liberty Walking Half Dollar’s front design as the same on the popular U.S. Mint’s American Silver Eagle coin.
Collectibility: Other than Liberty Half Dollars minted in the 1910’s and 20’s there are few key dates. All of the coins from 1917-1921 in good condition sell for higher prices than coins dated after 1921. You may find some of these coins in junk Liberty Walking Half Dollar batches, but they may also be in a condition less than good.
Condition The largest mintages of Liberty Walking Half Dollars are from the 1940’s when over a three hundred and thirty thousand were produced. Liberty Half Dollars minted during these years exhibit less wear than those minted in the 1910′, 20’s and 30’s. Since coins minted in the 1940’s were more plentiful, they tend to make up the bulk of junk Liberty Half Dollars for sale. In addition, older dated coins most likely have been pulled for key dates and not available in junk Liberty Walking Half Dollar batches for sale.
Junk silver Half Dollars should be purchased on the understanding that such purchases are silver bullion purchases, devoid of any numismatic value. Special “finds” should not be expected. With that in mind, it comes down to personal preference as to which junk silver half dollars you buy.
*older coins may have experienced wear and trace amounts of silver may have worn off making them slightly lighter than newer less circulated coins. Notwithstanding this, junk silver is sold by face value, not weight.
This article by BGASC is not, and should not be regarded as, investment advice or as a recommendation regarding any particular course of action.