Written by Rafa Sánchez
You’ve probably heard of American silver coins (quarters, half-dollars, etc)… but do you know which American silver coins you should buy for investment or your own collection? Our aim in this post is to provide you with information about American coins collectors‘ most sought-after pieces.
All the coins in the article have in common that they were minted in the United States of America from the 1920s to 1964 and contain a high amount of silver (90%), so they will always have a fixed or minimum value depending on the price of silver even if their conservation is not optimal.
Some certain values and dates do have an overvaluation due to their scarcity, although the silver content is the same as in the other coins of the same face value. We will look at these valuable pieces in more depth and try to compare the value given by PCGS and NGC with the auctions reached on eBay and in more recent world auctions.
Note: Not all the American silver coins in history have been mentioned, as the list would be endless. We have only delved into those minted since the post-war period, which have a 90% silver content and whose value and demand are high.
#1 Winged Liberty – Mercury Dime (10 cents) – 1916-D, 1921, 1921-D, 1942/1 & 1942/1-D
This piece was minted from 1916 to 1945, with a weight of 2.5 grams, of which 90% is silver and the remaining 10% is copper.
On the obverse side appears the figure of Liberty looking to the left with a winged Phrygian cap in the Roman style, with which the major god Mercury was represented. For this reason, they are also known as the Mercury Dime. In the legend, ‘LIBERTY’ is embossed, and in the space on the left ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’, and on the right the initials of the coin’s designer Adolph A. Weinman along with the year of issue.
On the back, there are Roman fasces and an axe in the centre with the legend ‘UNITED-STATES-OF-AMERICA’ along the edge. Below, the value ‘ONE DIME’ and the mint mark are embossed. These were minted in Denver (D), San Francisco (S) and Philadelphia (P or no mark).
This piece is very interesting because it presents a good investment opportunity, and has been highly quoted and sought after by collectors for several years. Below is a table with the most valuable dates, mints and valuations – according to conservation – comparing PCGS valuations and offers and auctions on eBay:
(*) Total print run 1942: 205,432,000 units
(**) Total print run 1942 Denver: 60,740 units
The dates 1942/1 and 1942/1-D are coins minted in 1941 and overdrawn the following year 1942.
As a summary, we can see some auctions held this year (2020) sold the most scarce dates available (remember that these auctions include the auction house’s commission charge between 20-25% on the auction price. This is an extra cost that we do not take into account in this table):
Mercury Dime 1916-D Value
|MS66+ Full bands||72.000$|
|MS65 Full bands||44.400$|
|MS63 Full bands||16.200-16.800$|
|MS61 Full bands||10.200$|
Mercury Dime 1921 Value
|MS67 Full bands||12.600$|
|MS66 Full bands||5.405$|
|MS64 Full bands||3.120$|
|MS63 Full bands||2.520$|
Mercury Dime 1921-D Value
|MS64 Full bands||3.360$|
Mercury Dime 1942/1 Value
|MS63 Full bands||12.000$|
|MS62 Full bands||4.200$|
Mercury Dime 1942/1-D
|MS63 Full bands||7.500$|
|MS61 Full bands||3.608$|
|AU58 Full bands||1.800$|
Considering the previous auctions, the most sought-after, valued and rare date that every collector wishes to have to complete his series, is 1916-D.
URGENT: If you are interested in one of these exclusive pieces, Heritage Auction has an MS64 Full bands PCGS on auction until September 18th 2020. CAC has a current bid of $14,500.
In recent years, pieces of similar quality have reached prices ranging from $22,425 to $28,200.
#2 Standing Liberty Quarter (25 cents) – 1916 & 1918/7-S
The 25 cents of the standing Liberty piece was coined between the years 1916 and 1930 and comes in at a weight of 6.25 grams. On the front, the figure of Liberty stands holding a shield in her left hand and an olive branch in her right. At the top is the legend ‘LIBERTY‘, inscribed halfway up on a pedestal appears the phrase “IN GOD / / WE TRUST” on either side, with 13 stars separated into two vertical groups, and below that, the date.
The reverse side depicts the national symbol of an eagle in flight, above it ‘UNITED-STATES/OF/AMERICA‘ and below it ‘E-PLVRIBVS VNVM‘. Encircling the design are 13 stars in two groups (7 on the right and 6 on the left) and below the value shown in words, ‘QUARTER-DOLLAR‘.
This coin is popular because, in its first year of circulation, the representation of Liberty showed part of her breast and, by popular request had to be modified to cover it. For this purpose, a design was used for the upper-body that resembled chainmail with a ‘U’ shaped neck. Later, the back was also modified by including three stars under the eagle.
This caused the coin to be highly sought after since its introduction in 1916, by people inside and outside the numismatic world. It is estimated that only 52,000 pieces dated 1916 were minted.
This year, the auction prices for this specific piece, in MS grades, are exceeding several thousand dollars, having reached a massive $42,000 in MS65+ Full Head grade. In lower qualities, they also reach over $1,000 due to their high demand.
Standing Liberty Quarter 1916 Value
|MS65+ Full Head||25.200-42.000$|
|MS65 Full Head||22.200-30.600$|
|MS64 Full Head||16.200-21.000$|
Another valuable and rare date is the curious case of the 1918 and1917 piece. This is not a double coinage since the rectification is only in the last digit of the date, an 8 over the original 7. The San Francisco Mint is the most valuable edition in auctions:
Standing Liberty Quarter 1918/7-S
#3 Washington Quarters (25 cents) – 1932-D & 1932-S
With a weight of 6.25 grams and an identical composition to the Mercury Dime (90-10), this coin was minted in 1932 and circulated in the period from 1934 to 1964 (in the year 1933 they were not minted). On the obverse, it features a bust of the First President of the United States, George Washington, and beneath the word ‘LIBERTY’. Embossed in the space in front of the bust is the phrase ‘IN GOD WE TRUST‘, and below, the date.
On the back, the presidential coat of arms is represented by an eagle with outstretched wings. Along the top is the main legend ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA‘ and at the bottom, the value ‘QUARTER DOLLAR‘ and the initials of the mint.
Of all the series, the most collectable date is 1932, but only those minted in Denver and San Francisco since they were the ones with the shortest print run. The approximate values of this date, according to PCGS and eBay, are:
Washington Quarter 1932 Value
Washington Quarter 1932-D Value
Washington Quarter 1932-S Value
As a summary, we can conclude that the best investment opportunities are found in the highest qualities of these years and mints, for being the most sought after and valued.
#4 Walking Liberty Half-dollar (50 cents) – 1916-S, 1917-S, 1919, 1919-D, 1919-S, 1921, 1921-D & 1921-S
This is a half-dollar coin with the same silver content as the other pieces listed in this article, 90%. They were minted from 1916 to 1947, replacing the Barber half-dollar and they were designed also by Adolph A. Weinman.
These are highly sought after pieces due to the interesting period during which they were minted – two World Wars – and their attractive design.
On the obverse side, the figure of Freedom is represented walking towards the sunrise holding an olive branch. The legend ‘LIBERTY‘ is shown above and in the space on the right the mantra ‘IN GOOD WE TRUST‘. The date of each coin’s minting is engraved at the base.
For the design, Weinman was inspired by French coins (Francs) which also represent Liberty walking towards the sunrise.
On the reverse side, a bald eagle perched on a rock with its wings half-extended is depicted, holding a pine branch with its right talon. Above appears the legend ‘UNITED-STATES-OF-AMERICA‘, and in the left field ‘E-PLURIBUS UNUM‘, and below the value in letters ‘HALF-DOLLAR‘ followed by the initials of the assayer, WA.
Initially, the mint was located on the front (just below ‘IN GOD WE TRUST‘) but in April 1917 it was decided to engrave the mint on the reverse (to the left of the pine branch that the eagle holds with its right claw, near the edge).
Depending on the number of units produced in 1917, there are differences in valuation according to the mint shown on the obverse or reverse side for that year.
Thus, it is estimated that the specimens minted in 1917 in Denver (D), with the mint on the front, reached 764,400 units, while with the mint shown on the back there were 1,940,000 units put into circulation.
In San Francisco (S), 952,000 units were produced with the mint on the front, and 5,554,000 units with mints on the back.
Of these four editions from 1917, the most valuable is the 1917-S type with the mint on the front, since compared to the total production of that year and mint, they make up just 17% of the total units minted.
Other valuable and highly sought after dates by collectors are 1916-S, 1919 (without mint, Denver and San Francisco) and 1921 (without mint, Denver and San Francisco). See the below table for some auction prices reached by half-dollar pieces during this year (2020), to gain a good idea of current prices:
Walking Liberty Half-dollar Value
|1916-S||1917-S (Mint Obv.)||1919||1919-D||1919-S|
As always, the superior qualities are more quoted, however, the year 1921 in the three mints presents a better investment opportunity for VF levels than the previous years.
#5 Kennedy Half-dollar (50 cents) – 1964 ‘Accented hair’
These coins began to be minted just two months after the assassination of President Kennedy. The date 1964, consisting of 90% silver, is very easy to obtain in circulated state at low prices. But in its uncirculated state, its price goes up dramatically. For example, on August 19, 2020, at Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio Auction House, a Kennedy Half Dollar was auctioned in Proof-68 Cameo quality for $90. In this same auction house, an MS-65 was auctioned at $45.
However, for investment, it is best to get the ‘Accented Hair‘ variant of this same date. In his A Guide Book of Franklin & Kennedy Half Dollars, 2011 the author Rick Tomaska estimates that in Philadelphia, out of a total of 3,950,762 in proof pieces, only 100,000 ‘accented hair’ units were minted. The story goes that Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline, was not happy with the hair design and so U.S. mints had to modify it once the coinage began.
- The high grades (PR/MS) are more highly valued, but even in lower grades, a good investment can be made with these coins.
- It is worth studying certain variants of American silver coins since their valuation is much higher than the current rates.
I have a degree in Business Administration and Management and numismatics studies at the University of Murcia (Spain).