Silver Content in Silver Coins

by blackspanielgallery

Silver coins are affordable, and many people are buying them. So, what is the amount of silver in a coin?

What is the silver content in a silver coin? Well, that varies. The term silver coin does not pertain to any particular purity of the silver in a coin. But some purities are more common than others. And, for each coin the purity of the silver is specified by the mint that produced the coin.

When considering the coin, it is important to be very specific. In some cases, the silver content has changed over time. For such coins one must know both the kind of coin and the year. A typical case of this happening is the Canadian silver dollar.

Where Can I Find the Purity of a Coin?

In older coins this might require researching the archives of a mint, or it might be done by obtaining a book that gives this information.  Often coin books give the known information about a coin, including the dimensions, weight, and metal content. 


One might be interested in the purity of a coin, or the weight of the silver content.  If the purity is 0.900 and the coin weighs one ounce, there is nine-tenths of an ounce of silver in that coin.   This is easier to determine if your source gives the ASW of the coin.  ASW stands for actual silver weight.  In such cases it is not necessary to multiply, just read the silver content of the coin.


In very pure coins, such as 0.999 or 0.9999 pure, the purity is shown on the coin.  A typical 0.9999 one-ounce silver coin would show 1 ounce 0.9999 Ag, where Ag is the chemical symbol for silver.  The word ounce may be abbreviated oz. 


Eighty Percent and Less Silver Coins

The Canadian silver dollar once was minted with eighty percent silver content.  Others had a purity of just fifty percent.  Briefly the United States, in the years 1965 through 1970, produced forty percent silver half dollars.  These are representative of coins a mint wished to claim to be silver, but the coins had a rather low silver content.

Ninety Percent Silver Coins

The ninety percent purity was coin silver.  This is the percentage the United states used for most, although not all, silver coins minted before 1965.  Very old coins had a different content of silver, as did the five cent pieces minted during World war II, but often for older coins the purity was close to ninety percent.


The notable exception was the five cent pieces minted using silver during World War II.  They had a lower silver content.

Sterling silver

Canada has used Sterling silver in some coins, including some silver dollars and even in some commemorative coins.  Sterling silver has a purity of 0.925.  Also, many European countries mint using Sterling silver for some of their silver coins.  A quick check of the Eurostar silver coins will show a significant number minted in Sterling silver.


This is not to say all European silver coins are Sterling silver.  The Royal Mint uses fine silver, and some larger French coins are also in fine silver.  Bullion coins like the silver Austrian philharmonic and the Armenian Noah’s Ark are minted in fine silver, along with the large range of British silver bullion coins.


I once had a discussion with a jewelry dealer at a show, and he said the Sterling silver coins were preferred for jewelry.  If a fine silver coin is melted to be reused in jewelry, the silver is too soft. So, an impurity has to be added.  Sterling silver is just right for mixture of silver and other metals silver jewelry.

Past Problems

Silver is a soft metal.  Use of 0.900 and 0.925 coins were due to making hard enough coins to wear well in circulation.  It is unlikely any coin of greater purity would be minted, even today, for circulation use.  However, neither commemorative coins, not bullion coins, are expected to be handled much, so fine silver can be used for them.

Fine Silver Coins

Many major mints now have gone to fine silver.  Certainly, the bullion coins are often minted in fine silver.  Silver with a purity of 0.999 was introduced some time back.  Now, some mints use 0.9999 fine silver.


Is the fourth nine really important?  It does cost more to achieve the higher purity.  Of a practical nature it should not be significant.  However, the psychology of the public is to perceive the slightly purer silver as more desirable, and competition in producing desirable bullion coins is fierce.  The number of silver bullion coins seems to increase annually, along with the increasing number of bars and rounds.  Now, having an interesting subject, and claiming a high purity seem to have appeal.


For fine silver coins the purity and weight are often specified right on the coin. 

Can Other Purities Exist?

Yes, there is no international standard regarding the purity of a precious metal coin.  The French did a twenty-coin set featuring Mickey Mouse, and the purity of the silver was only 0.333.

The United States Silver

The United States has been minting silver coins using the 0.900 coin standard, with the two exceptions being the five-ounce quarters and the silver American Eagle.  Commemorative coins, and small quarters have been issued in the lower purity.  However, the Apollo Moon Landing silver commemorative coin, and the 2019 silver quarters being released, have been changed to the 0.999 standard.  Minting future silver coins with the purity used by other countries should help with the desirability of the United States coinage. 

This article contains links to affiliate programs and Adsense advertising.  These must use cookies to allow for proper crediting. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


The introduction image is of our own.

Updated: 02/26/2019, blackspanielgallery
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
blackspanielgallery on 03/02/2019

Older coins with less silver can still have a value, especially if it is a rare coin. Coin value is a function of many things.

blackspanielgallery on 03/02/2019

ancient coins have inconsistent purity, due to the methods of refining gold and silver.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/02/2019

blackspanielgallery, Thank you for the practicalities and products. Are the older coins with lower silver content, such as the Canadian silver dollars at 80 percent and U.S. silver half dollars at 40 percent, deemed competitively collectible? Or would their lower silver content, despite their age, make them less desirable than a contemporaneous or more recent minting at a higher percent?

WriterArtist on 02/28/2019

I wonder how pure ancient gold and silver coins would be? Ancient or not, gold and silver have always fascinated mankind. Humans have stored gold and silver because they have resale value. Silver coins may fare better than silver if they are collectible. An interesting article that tells about the history of silver used in silver coins.

You might also like

Starting a New Coin Blog

I have launched a coin blog, and the experience is rewarding me with an incre...

Art Contest with Collectible Coins

The State of Alaska has an interesting art contest annually. The winning des...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...