Silver as Money: A History of US Silver Coins

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History of Silver as MoneyThe history of silver as money goes back many thousands and thousands of years. Silver coinage first appeared around 600 BC in current day Turkey, and from there it has been used in every major empire, from the Greeks & Romans to the Spanish and current day United States.

I’d like to take a look at the history of US silver coins that have been used as money since our nation begun. It’s amazing how few people even realize that for the first ~ 175 years of the US, silver was used in everyday coins and circulated throughout the economy as common money up until the year 1964, when they stopped making silver coins.

Even though many coins overlap in dates, I organized the events in a timeline to view it in chronological order. I also included the dates of the various Coinage Acts and how they affected silver coinage. Take some time to look at the coins’ designs and appreciate the artwork.


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1789

Silver Mandated as Legal Tender

1792

First US Mint Established

1794

Flowing Hair Half-Dime (1794 - 1795)
Flowing Hair Half Dollar (1794 - 1795)
Flowing Hair Dollar (1794 - 1795)

1795

Draped Bust Dollar (1795 - 1804)

1796

Draped Bust Half Dime (1796 - 1805)
Draped Bust Dime (1796 - 1807)
Draped Bust Quarter (1796 - 1807)
Draped Bust Half Dollar (1796 - 1807)

1807

Capped Bust Half Dollar (1807 - 1839)

1809

Capped Bust Dime (1809 - 1837)

1815

Capped Bust Quarter (1815 - 1838)

1829

Capped Bust Half Dime (1829 - 1837)

1834

Coinage Act of 1834

1836

Gobrecht Dollar (1836 - 1839)

1837

Seated Liberty Half Dime (1837 - 1873)
Seated Liberty Dime (1837 - 1891)

1838

Seated Liberty Quarter (1838 - 1891)

1839

Seated Liberty Half Dollar (1839 - 1891)

1840

Seated Liberty Dollar (1840 - 1873)

1851

3 Cent Silver Piece (1851 - 1873)

1864

Coinage Act of 1864

1873

Coinage Act of 1873
Trade Dollar (1873 - 1885)

1875

Twenty Cent Piece (1875 - 1878)

1878

Morgan Dollar (1878 - 1921)

1892

Barber dime (1892 - 1921)
Barber Quarter (1892 - 1916)
Barber Half Dollar (1892 - 1915)

1916

Mercury Dime (1916 - 1945)
Standing Liberty Quarter (1916 - 1930)
Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916 - 1947)

1921

Peace Dollar (1921 - 1935)

1932

Washington Quarter (1932 - 1964)

1942

Jefferson "Wartime" Nickel 1942 - 1945

1946

Roosevelt Dime (1946 - 1964)

1948

Franklin Half Dollar (1948 - 1963)

1964

Kennedy Half Dollar (1964 - 1970)

1965

Coinage Act of 1965


I can honestly say while I was researching this topic, I began to really enjoy the artwork and craftsmanship of each coin, and can begin to appreciate why numismatic coin collectors do what they do. Silver coins have a fascinating history used as money here in the US, and hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.

The one question that remains is:
When will the Coinage Act that reintroduces silver into our Monetary system be signed into effect?

Images courtesy of
 Jhon E. Cash
 CCF Numismatics
 Heritage Auction Galleries

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2 comments

  1. Trace Young says:

    Very nicely done! Interesting to me how the decline of the U.S. middle class seems to very closely trail the removal of silver from U.S. coins. Though correlation does not always equal causality there are reasons to believe that there exists a degree of causality in this case.

  2. Zachary Daquiri says:

    Unfortunately there’s no longer any possibility that new circulating silver coins can be minted. The use of precious metals in coins worked only so long as the value of the silver in each coin was less than the coin’s face value, and that was possible only when governments agreed to control the metal’s price.

    When the US deregulated silver’s price back in the 1960s the open market quickly took over. Industrial demand for silver – infamously compounded by speculation – soon pushed the melt value of silver coins far higher than their face value. So dimes, quarters, and halves ended up in furnaces that for a year or so many stores had to make change using only nickels and pennies.

    The price of silver is now deregulated world-wide. Any single country that tried to re-regulate it for use in coins would see those coins vanish to other, non-regulated countries the same way US silver coins vanished 50+ years ago.

    The only way to resume silver coinage now would be to somehow re-establish worldwide controls on its price AND control industrial and investment demand, neither of which has any reasonable likelihood of happening. We’ve let the genie out of the bottle and there’s no way to put it back.

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