Between the years 1965 and 1976, two major U.S. coins contained 40% silver. The term “40% silver” is a short way for investors, collectors, and buyers to refer to Kennedy Half-Dollars minted 1965–1970, and 1976, as well as Eisenhower Silver Dollars minted in the years 1971-1974, and 1976. The term also serves to differentiate these coins from pre-1965 coinage, which contained 90% silver, as well as currently circulating coins, which do not contain any silver. A 40% silver quarter dollar was created for the United States’ bicentennial, but it was only available in Mint or Proof sets; it was never in general circulation. Some also lump 35% silver “war nickels” in when using the term 40% silver. Typically, Kennedy Half-Dollars and Eisenhower Silver Dollars are not considered for their numismatic value. They are often traded for their silver content in $100, $500, and $1000 face value bags.
This is our extensive deep dive into coins containing 40% silver, or simply, our Ultimate Guide to 40% Silver Coins. This guide allows the reader to gather all the need-to-know details about the short era when the content of some coins produced by the U.S. Mint was 40% silver. Before we get into the specifics and reasons why to add 40% to your collection or stack, I’d like to lead in with a personal story illustrating why 40% silver coins are so favored, especially Kennedy Half-Dollars.
June 1995. The summer before my freshman year of high school. That month I, along with 30 other classmates, took a trip to Washington D.C. We had fundraised all spring semester selling pizzas and gourmet lollipops to afford the flight, professional tours, meals, busing, and hotel stay. This was my first trip to the east coast and our country’s capital – it was only my third time flying on a commercial airline. While there, we toured the Washington Monument, Mount Vernon (Washington’s Estate), Lincoln Memorial, Ford Theater, J. Edgar Hoover Building (FBI Headquarters), museums of the Smithsonian, the White House, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the U.S. Mint, and, on the last day of the trip, the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame Memorial.
The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame is the presidential memorial at the gravesite of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. It’s located in Arlington National Cemetery and this “eternal flame” is a ground level gas-fueled torch that has been burning for more than 50 years to commemorate JFK’s memory and legacy. Per some sources, the flame has only been extinguished twice, and both times were by accident. The site was designed by architect John Carl Warnecke, a long-time friend of President Kennedy. Although when we visited it had already been a little over a year since Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Jacky O.), JFK’s widow, had passed away, she had not yet been interned next to her husband. It alludes me now, but there was a logic for this. Visiting this gravesite memorial planted a seed in my mind and soul that would sprout years later. I shall explain shortly.
First, here’s a little snapshot in history:
On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. There are reams written on why he was executed with many government and Mafia conspiratorial angles. I won’t get into that in this guide, seeing as the topic is 40% silver coins. It is worth mentioning; however, because the mysterious circumstances around his death is one reason why the coin in his likeness is sought after so. His untimely demise is also the reason his face was chosen, since no living President’s face graced any currency at that time. That said, within hours of the assassination, Mint Director Eva Adams called Chief Engraver Gilroy Roberts, informing him serious consideration was already being given to depicting Kennedy on one of the larger silver coins: either the silver dollar, half-dollar, or quarter dollar. Given the choice, Jacqueline Kennedy preferred he be depicted on the half-dollar, replacing the previous Benjamin Franklin design. Mrs. Kennedy’s reasoning was she did not want to replace George Washington on the quarter. Two ceremonial first strikes for the Kennedy Half-Dollar were held on February 11, 1964, one at the Philadelphia Mint and one at the Denver Mint, and the Treasury Department made the coins available to the public March 24, 1964.
The United States Mint struck the Kennedy Half-Dollar in great numbers focused on meeting the overwhelming demand. The Treasury had originally planned to issue 91 million half-dollars for 1964 year, but elevated the mintage to 141 million coins. The widely publicized announcement of the expanded coinage did not cause more coins to circulate, nor did it decrease values in after-market sales. Nearing the end of November 1964, the U.S. Mint had struck and distributed approximately 160 million pieces, however, the coin was rarely seen in circulation. Silver prices were on the rise, and many of these Kennedy Half-dollar coins were being hoarded. Hoping issuing more 1964-dated coins would mitigate the public at large’s collector and silver speculation in the coin, the Treasury asked, and was given Congress’s authority, to continue minting 1964-dated coins well into 1965. In all, almost 430 million 1964 half-dollars were struck bearing the year 1964. This total is more than all Franklin Half-Dollars in its sixteen-year run.
The official narrative was all this minting for half-dollars rapidly depleted the Treasury’s silver stock. Spot silver rose so high that by June of 1965, circulating Roosevelt-faced dime dated 1964 or earlier contained $0.0933 worth of silver. This face value/melt value ratio was a little too close for comfort for the Treasury. On June 3, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson communicated a plan to remove all silver content from dimes and quarters; instead layers of copper-nickel would be put on each side of a layer of pure copper also referred to as a “clad sandwich.” The half-dollar was irrevocably changed from containing 90% silver to containing only 40%. Thus, the Kennedy Half-Dollars only contained 90% silver for one year, 1964, and the five following years the coin was issued, their silver content was only 40%. Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1965 in July, and while the new half-dollar retained its silvery appearance due to the outer layer being 80% silver and 20% copper, as a whole, the coin was only 40% silver. This was a trick of alloy since there was an inner layer of 21% silver and 79% copper. Below is a chart that contains mintages of the coin between 1965 and 1970, when it was truly 40% silver.
In 2005, precisely ten years after that D.C. trip, I moved to Dallas, and it’s where I’ve lived for the last twelve years. I live downtown, less than half a mile from where JFK was assassinated, and near a museum that was founded in 1989 to commemorate this event. From a historical and worldwide perspective, the city of Dallas is known for two major productions/events – the T.V. show ‘DALLAS,’ which aired from the late 70s until the early 90s, and the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Coincidentally, and related to the subjects of silver and Dallas, two sons of real-life oil barren Haroldson Lafayette “H. L.” Hunt, Jr. (whom ‘DALLAS’ TV show main character J.R. Ewing was modeled after) attempted to corner the silver market in the 1970s by buying and holding more physical metal than any central bank held. Their names were William Herbert and Lamar Hunt. William is still alive, lives in Dallas, and his net worth is estimated at $2.0 billion. The details of that story are for another time.
In the case of tourism to the “scene of the crime” where JFK was shot… how do I know it’s so popular? During the spring and summer months, over the last twelve years, I’ve seen first-hand thousands of tourists every weekend in Dealey Plaza trying to find the “grassy knoll.” The knoll is purposely left without signage, unless placed by JFK assassination expert Robert Groden, who has won 82 cases against the city of Dallas for placing a sign, then subsequently being arrested. Many onlookers are seen using binoculars to pinpoint bullet trajectory, or is it multiple trajectories?
Dealey Plaza is the top attraction listed on every city visitor’s brochure or blogger’s list of “things to do in Dallas.” Right or wrong, Dallas has capitalized off of this event, just as the U.S. Mint has, and continues to until this day through seigniorage sales of proof sets containing Kennedy Half-Dollars. Some say the shadow government also benefited because of JFK’s unfulfilled desire to dismantle the Federal Reserve, but that’s a story for another day.
Although many speculate to all the contributing factors, JFK’s popularity and early demise made the Kennedy Half-Dollar one of the most sought-after and horded coins of all time by the public, irrespective of silver content.
Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States. His leadership as President officially lasted from 1953 until 1961. According to experts, Eisenhower’s two terms reflected several shining credits the most notable of which was a high level of economic prosperity, with the exception of a stark recession from 1958 to 1959. Ike was voted Gallup’s “Most Admired Man” twelve times, and he was held in notoriety and esteem while in office and after he was out. Thus, it’s agreed among Western scholars Eisenhower was one of the greatest U.S. Presidents. He is remembered for his key position in World War II, the formation of the Interstate Highway System, and as the executor in ending the Korean War.
In 1965, due to rising market bullion values, the U.S. Mint had begun to produce copper-nickel clad coins instead of 90% silver coins. For thirty years, there was an absence of dollar coins, and initially, none were minted in the new metal. In 1969, lawmakers had their sights set on reintroducing a dollar face value coin into regular circulation and general commerce. After Eisenhower died in March of that year, there were a several proposals written suggesting we honor him and his memory with the new coin design. While these bills generally took on wide support, passing this piece of legislation was held up by disagreements over whether the new coin should be minted in base metal or using 40% silver.
In 1970, a decision was made to take a middle course of action. The Eisenhower dollar would be minted using base metal targeted at mass distribution and circulation, and a version of the piece, which would serve as a collectable coin. On March 28, 1969, Eisenhower died from congestive heart failure. Quickly succeeding his demise, House Representative of New Jersey Florence Dwyer (R), recommended that the dollar coin on the table coin bear Ike’s resemblance. Current president at the time Richard Nixon, who had also served as vice president under Eisenhower, signed legislation authorizing the new coin on December 31, 1970.
Ultimately, the US one dollar coin, minted from 1971 to 1978, featured his face, and it was the first coin of that denomination issued by the Mint since the Peace Dollar series’ last run in 1935. Both obverse and reverse sides of the coin were designed by Frank Gasparro. Only through years 1971-1976 did they contain any silver content, and as I mentioned, only with certain versions.
The reasons for buying 40% silver coins range as much as the reasons for buying 90% silver. Here are some reasons for owning and investing in 40% silver coins.
Some may choose to purchase 40% silver for the very reason that each coin is not as valuable and does not have the same density of silver in one place as 90% silver continental coins, bars, rounds, or bullion coins.
2. Lower Premiums than 90% Silver
For whatever reason, 40% holds a lower premium than 90% silver coins. So if you’re looking to pay very little over spot, and you have the space to store the coins, 40% is a great option.
3. Great Gifts
You may not want to give away your 90% coins, but a relative might be just as appreciative if you give him/her a 40% coin such as a Kennedy Half-Dollar with his/her date of birth. Although, if the intended gift recipient was born in 1975, and you want to give him a 40% coin, you’re out of luck.
4. Key Years
Even if you’re not a collector looking only for graded/slabbed coins, there are still key years that hold more value than the average coin within the same era. If you buy a bag of random years, you might get lucky and find one that a collector is willing to pay a little bit more than melt value.
This guide isn’t necessarily a lesson in numismatics, or rare mintmarks and years. Others have written extensively on these subjects. However, creating an Ultimate Guide to 40% Silver Coins and neglecting the base knowledge of mintmarks would leave the reader amiss. Here are just a couple items to note:
The 1965-1970 Kennedy Half-Dollars either had no mintmark, which means it was minted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; or a “D” which stands for the Denver Mint in Denver, Colorado; or an “S” mark which means it was minted in San Francisco, California. The only “S” minted coins of that era were created for Proof Sets. The Eisenhower Silver Dollars can be found with “D” for the Denver Mint, “S” for the San Francisco Mint, or no mint mark which means it was struck in Philadelphia. The “S” marked strikes were apart of Mint and Proof Sets and a certain amount were released into circulation.
A 40% silver Kennedy Half-Dollar coin weighs 11.50 grams, has a diameter of 30.6 millimeters, and thickness of 2.15 millimeters. The actual silver content is 0.1479 troy ounces. A 40% silver Eisenhower Silver-Dollar coin weighs 24.59 grams, has a diameter of 38.1 millimeters, (1.5 inches), and a thickness of 2.58 millimeters. The actual silver content is 0.3161 troy ounces.
With four different kinds to choose from, which should you choose? Here are two of the most popular 40% silver coins with links to where you can buy them:
1. Kennedy Half-Dollars (1965-1970)
For the reasons I’ve outline previously in this guide, collectors, buyers, and even those whom consider themselves neither love Kennedy Half-Dollars The non-bicentennial years are going to be more popular because they are less valuable from a numismatic perspective and can be bought in bulk.
2. Eisenhower Silver Dollars (1971-1974, 1976)
The non-bicentennial silver dollars with Eisenhower’s mug from 1971-1974 are the second most popular 40% coin type. They also bear the “S” mintmark because others from the same years were not 40% silver. Although they didn’t circulate heavily, the Eisenhower Silver Dollars were quite popular with the Nevada casinos in the early ‘70s for use as a replacement for privately issued tokens. You can still buy rolls and bags of these coins for their melt value.
You’ll need to be physically able to lift at least 50 pounds if you’re considering buying a $1000 face value bag. The weight of other face value bags vary.
Bags are less efficient with space than rolls and they need sufficient space for storage. If you don’t have the space, you can get more silver per square inch with silver bullion bars.
If math is not your strong suit, crunching the numbers will take more time and brain power when you’re dealing with 40% silver, even more so than 90% silver. You’ll want to keep a actual silver weight (ASW) chart, calculator, and/or a spreadsheet handy.
This concludes JM Bullion’s Ultimate Guide to 40% Silver Coins.
If you’re interested in learning more about other US coins that contain silver, check out JM Bullion’s Ultimate Guide to 90% Silver Coins.