How to tell if a dime is silver? If you’ve come across a dime and want to know if it contains silver, you’ve come to the right place. In this comprehensive guide, we will provide step-by-step instructions, signs to look for, and valuable information to help you easily identify silver dimes.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Look at the date on the dime – 1964 and earlier dimes contain 90% silver, 1965 to 1970 dimes contain 40% silver, and dimes dated 1971 onwards contain copper and nickel with no silver content.
Throughout this article, we will cover when the U.S. Mint used silver in dimes, what to look for on silver dimes including dates, mint marks, weights, visual signs of silver content, magnet and conductivity tests, and methods to determine approximate silver value.
We’ve researched so you can quickly and accurately identify valuable silver dimes.
A Brief History of Silver in Dimes
When U.S. Dimes Contained Silver
From 1796, when the first dimes were minted, until 1964, the composition of United States dimes included 90% silver and 10% copper. This 90% silver alloy is known as “coin silver.” Early dimes contained a substantial intrinsic value from the silver content.
Editor’s note: a pre-1965 silver dime is worth approximately $1.80 as of December 2023 due to the value of the silver alone (based on silver spot price).
The standard of 90% silver in dime composition lasted for over 150 years in the U.S., from the late 1700s through 1964. Several key silver dime releases happened during this long stretch of U.S. coinage history:
- The first silver dimes were released in 1796 during George Washington’s presidency.
- The popular Liberty Head “Barber” silver dimes spanned from 1892 until just before WWI in 1916.
- The iconic Mercury silver dimes bearing the Winged Liberty image were minted from 1916 to 1945.
- The beautiful Roosevelt silver dimes featuring an engraving of President Franklin D. Roosevelt debuted in 1946, continuing the legacy of 90% silver through 1964.
It was not until mid-1964 that the silver composition changed due to coin shortages and rising silver prices, ending over 150 consecutive years of 90% silver in United States dime coinage.
Why and When The U.S. Mint Changed Dime Compositions
In the early 1960s, silver prices started rising substantially in global markets. Through 1963, U.S. dimes still contained a respectable 0.07234 troy ounces of 90% fine silver, giving each dime a bullion value exceeding face value.
By 1964, the rising intrinsic value of silver bullion meant most circulating silver dimes were hoarded, melted down, or exported overseas. This created a massive nationwide coin shortage. In turn, the U.S. Mint responded by rapidly changing compositions.
On April 3, 1964, the U.S. Mint officially changed dime compositions to 91.67% copper and 8.33% nickel, with no silver content. This new copper-nickel-clad composition for dimes is still used today.
The transition away from silver was completed rapidly across denominations. Just 1 year later in 1965, the United States fully transitioned nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars to standardized copper-nickel alloys used to this day.
No circulating U.S. coins have contained silver since the 1960s transition.
How to Identify Silver Dimes
Key Date Ranges to Look For
When checking if a dime is silver, it’s important to know the key date ranges. Silver dimes were minted from 1916-1945. So any dime within that date range has a good chance of being 90% silver. Specifically, you’ll want to check for Mercury dimes (1916-1945) and Roosevelt dimes (1946-1964).
Those two types always contain silver if within that date range.
Check Mint Marks
An easy way to identify silver dimes is to check for a mint mark. This is a small letter printed on the coin indicating which mint it came from. For example, a “D” mint mark means it was struck at the Denver mint.
If you see a mint mark on a 1916-1964 dated dime, then you know it’s 90% silver no matter what. The exceptions would be 1965-1970 dated dimes which have no silver even though they have mint marks.
A fast way to test if a dime contains silver is to examine its weight. An average circulated silver dime weighs around 2.5 grams. You can use a small digital scale to weigh your dimes. Any worn silver dime dating 1916-1964 should measure between 2.3 to 2.6 grams.
A modern clad dime weighs only 1.8 grams. So if your scale shows 2.5g or more, that’s a positive sign it has silver.
Inspect for Visual Signs of Silver
There are also some visible signs you can check that indicate silver content. Examine the reeded edges of the dime. Silver dimes have noticeably thinner reeds compared to clad dimes. Also, inspect for wear patterns. An authentic silver dime will show even wear on the high points of the coin.
The design details should be flattened with no copper showing through. If you tilt the dime, a silver dime will have white highlights across the fields whereas a clad dime looks more gray and flat. Checking for these signs takes some practice but can help verify silver content.
Tests to Verify Silver Content
The Magnet Test
One easy way to check if a dime contains silver is by using a magnet. Silver is not magnetic, while the copper and nickel found in modern clad dimes are. Here’s how to do the magnet test:
- Get a strong magnet – a refrigerator magnet or rare earth magnet works best.
- Hold the magnet close to the dime for a few seconds and see if it sticks. If the magnet sticks strongly, it’s a clad dime containing mostly copper and nickel. But if the magnet slides right off, it likely contains 90% silver.
This magnet slide test takes just a few seconds and can quickly identify any pre-1965 silver dimes in your collection. Silver dimes won’t stick no matter how strong the magnet is. It’s a fun, simple way to check for silver content!
The Conductivity Test
Another way to test for silver content is by using electricity to check the dime’s conductivity. Silver is the most conductive metal, even more so than copper. Here are the steps for the conductivity test:
- Get an ohm meter or multimeter set to check electrical resistance.
- Clean both sides of the dime with a soft cloth to remove dirt and oils.
- Place the dime between the multimeter probes and check the resistance reading. A pure silver dime will show very low resistance, around 1 ohm or less. Clad dimes contain mostly copper and will measure over 2 ohms.
This conductivity method provides quantitative results to accurately determine silver purity. According to industry experts, a reading below 1.5 ohms indicates a 90% silver dime. Ohm meters can be purchased quite affordably online for this purpose.
Determining Approximate Silver Value
There are a few key factors to consider when determining the approximate silver value of your dimes:
Date and Composition
The silver value is primarily based on the coin’s composition and date:
- Dimes dated 1964 or earlier are 90% silver and 10% copper
- Dimes from 1965-1970 contain 40% silver (the rest is copper and nickel)
- Dimes dated 1971 onwards contain no silver
So a 1964 dime contains 0.07234 troy ounces of pure silver (0.10 troy ounces total silver content x 0.90 silver purity / 0.720 pure silver per troy ounce = 0.07234 troy ounces pure silver).
Silver Spot Price
The market value of silver fluctuates daily based on supply and demand. As of December 2023, the silver spot price is around $23 per troy ounce.
To calculate the approximate value, multiply the silver content (in troy ounces) by the current silver spot price. So a 1964 dime contains roughly $1.66 worth of silver (0.07234 x $23).
On top of silver content value, some dimes also have numismatic value if they are rare dates/mints, in pristine condition, etc. This premium value is more subjective and must be assessed by a professional grader.
How To Tell If A Dime Is a Silver – Conclusion
As you have learned, while all dimes look similar, examining them closely can reveal valuable silver dimes worth well above face value.
By checking the dates, mint marks, and weights and doing simple conductivity tests, you can easily spot silver dimes in circulation and determine if they are the 90% silver pre-1965 dimes, the 40% silver 1965-1970 dimes, or the copper-nickel clad dimes issued since 1971.
We have armed you with all the details about the history and silver content used in U.S. coinage, signs to inspect on dimes, and content to accurately ascertain silver value. With this useful information, you can confidently identify and set aside silver dimes for their precious metal value or collectability.