How to tell if a half-dollar is silver? Wondering if that old half-dollar coin sitting in your drawer or coin collection might be made of silver? There are some easy ways to tell if a half dollar is 90% silver or just an ordinary clad coin with no precious metal value.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Check the date and mint mark – half dollars minted prior to 1964 contain 90% silver. Also, check edge lettering – silver half dollars have no edge lettering while clad coins say “HALF DOLLAR”.
In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn everything you need to accurately determine the silver content and collectible value of any United States half-dollar coin.
Key Dates and Designs for Silver Half Dollars
Circulated Half Dollars from 1964 and Earlier
One of the best ways to find a silver half-dollar is to look for half-dollars made before 1965, as those minted in 1964 or earlier contain 90% silver. They are still found in circulation today due to hoarders breaking into old coin collections to cash them in.
While most half dollars from 1964 and before carry little to no collector premium, there are several key dates to look out for:
- The 1955 doubled die variety is extremely rare and desirable among collectors, making it extremely valuable even in well-circulated conditions.
- The 1892-O, 1916, and 1921 Walking Liberty half dollars are also scarce dates that fetch above-average prices.
- The 1948 Franklin half dollar is popular for its interesting toning patterns.
Special Release 90% Silver Proof Sets (1964-1970)
While regular circulating half dollars from 1964-1970 were minted in 40% silver, special proof sets continued to contain 90% silver coins. According to the NGC Coin Explorer, proof Franklin halves from 1964-1970 were minted with a brilliant mirror finish and higher relief for collectors.
Along with proof of Kennedy half dollars from 1964 featuring iconic inaugural designs, these silver proof sets remain popular with stackers and investors. Their eye appeal and complete lack of circulation provide a very different silver coin experience compared to locating well-worn “junk silver” pieces.
40% Silver Half Dollars – 1965-1970
After silver was removed from dimes and quarters in 1965, half dollars soldiered on for five more years with 40% silver composition before being replaced by copper-nickel clad versions in 1971.
While not as substantial as the 90% silver pieces that came before, 40% silver half-dollars make up a relatively brief period in coin history. Highlights include:
- The lower half dollar mintages in 1966 and 1967 compared to surrounding years.
- The special proof versions of the 40% silver coins stand out for their cameo contrasts.
- The final year of silver half-dollar production in 1970 before transitioning designs and metal content.
|Half Dollar Years
How to Read the Mint Mark on Half Dollars
Understanding the different mint marks on half-dollar coins can assist collectors in determining their origin, rarity, and potential value. Most marks signify which U.S. mint facility struck the coin, while some special marks indicate anniversary editions.
Understanding Mint Marks
Mint marks are small letters stamped on coin dies to identify the mint that manufactured the coins. Marks began to appear on all U.S. coin denominations after 1835 when multiple branch mints opened. Here’s an overview of mint marks:
- No mint mark = Struck at the Philadelphia mint
- CC = Carson City, Nevada mint
- O = New Orleans, Louisiana mint
- S = San Francisco, California mint
- W = West Point, New York mint
- D = Denver, Colorado mint
The absence or presence of a mint mark can significantly influence a coin’s value to collectors and dealers. For example, key date 1916-D Mercury dimes with the “D” Denver mint mark are highly coveted and sell for over $2,000 in mint condition.
Locating the Mint Mark on Half Dollars
On most half-dollar coins, the mint mark is located on the reverse (tails) side.
|Mint Mark Location
|Flowing Hair 1794-1795
|No mint marks
|Draped Bust 1796-1807
|No mint marks
|Capped Bust 1807-1839
|No mint marketed
|d Liberty 1839-1891
|Below wreath above HALF DOL on reverse
|Below tail feathers on reverse
|Walking Liberty 1916-1947
|Below cotton blossom branch stem on reverse
|Below cotton blossom branch stem on reverse Kennedy
|Below cotton blossom branch stem on reverse
As the table shows in blue, the consistent placement of mint marks on half dollars from 1916 onward aids quick identification.
List of U.S. Mints and Mint Marks
The United States Mint has six active coin production facilities. Two older mints in Carson City and New Orleans are no longer operating but struck coins in the past. Here is a list of U.S. mint marks in circulation:
- Philadelphia (P) – No mint mark. The main U.S. coin facility since 1792. Struck the first half dollars in 1794.
- Denver (D) – Located in Colorado and minting coins since 1906.
- San Francisco (S) – Opened in California in 1854 to coin gold rush bullion.
- Carson City (CC) – Struck coins from 1870 to 1893 in Nevada.
- West Point (W) – Bullion depository and mint facility in New York running since 1937.
- New Orleans (O) – Louisiana mint operating 1838-1909 before Hurricane Katrina.
Knowing mint facility histories aids in understanding historical coin mintages before modern mass production. For silver half-dollar collectors, “CC”, “S”, and “O” marks indicate possible numismatic premiums.
Checking the Coin’s Edge for Clad or Silver Composition
There is an easy way to determine if your half-dollar coin contains actual silver or is made from the cheaper clad material. Simply examine the edge of the coin for lettering or lack thereof.
Silver Half Dollars Have No Edge Lettering
Authentic silver half-dollars minted between 1794 and 1964 do not have any words, letters, or markings along the outer edge. This is because the coin is made entirely from 90% silver with the remaining 10% copper. Thus, true silver half-dollars have a smooth, uninterrupted rim.
According to the website Littletonof Coin Company, silver coins have a distinctive pinging sound when flicked with a finger. So if your 1964 or earlier half-dollar has no edge lettering and rings like a tiny bell, there is an excellent chance it contains genuine silver.
Clad Half Dollars Say “Half Dollar”
In 1965, rising silver prices forced the U.S. Mint to start producing copper-nickel-clad half dollars instead of 90% silver coins. These clad half-dollars have alternating layers of copper and nickel bonded to a pure copper core.
The easiest way to identify clad half dollars is by the incused lettering along the edge. All clad half dollars minted from 1965 onwards read “Half Dollar” in raised letters separated by spaces.
According to USA Coin Book, no U.S. half-dollar made after 1970 contains any silver. So if your coin has the “Half Dollar” lettering, it is just a standard copper-nickel clad half dollar worth face value.
Conducting Magnet, Weight, and Dimension Tests
The Magnet Test
The magnet test is the easiest way to check if a half-dollar coin contains silver. Take a strong magnet and hold it close to the coin. If the magnet sticks, the coin does not contain silver since silver is not magnetic.
If the magnet slides off, there’s a good chance the coin has a high silver content.
This test works because silver is a non-ferrous metal, meaning it does not contain iron and is not attracted to magnets. Coins minted from 1965 onward contain no silver, only copper and nickel which are attracted to magnets.
Weighing and Measuring The Coin
Another method is to weigh and measure the coin to determine if it meets the specifications for a silver half-dollar:
- Diameter: 30.6 mm
- Thickness: 2.15 mm
- Weight: 12.5 grams
Pre-1965 half dollars containing 90% silver will closely match these measurements. Copper-nickel-clad coins minted from 1965 onward may vary slightly in size and weight.
You can use a jeweler’s caliper to precisely measure diameter and thickness. For weight, a digital kitchen scale or coin scale will suffice.
Ping Test for Silver Coins
The ping test uses sound to gauge a coin’s silver content. Hold the coin securely between your thumb and index finger and gently flick it with your other index finger. A coin with high silver content will produce a nice, resounding, high-pitched ping sound that rings for a second or two.
Copper-nickel coins give more of a dull thud rather than a ring. This is because silver is denser and has more mass than base metals, causing it to vibrate longer when flicked.
With a little practice, you can use the distinctive ping quality to spot silver coins quickly.
Numismatic Value of Silver Half Dollars
Silver half-dollars minted between the early 1800s and 1970 contain precious metal that gives them extra collectible appeal beyond the stated face value. Both coin collectors (numismatists) and silver bullion investors prize these classic US coins.
Condition Drives Collectible Value
The grade condition of silver half dollars has a huge impact on collector value. Well-struck examples with no major marks, attractive toning, and sharp detail grade MS63 up to MS68 on the Sheldon 70-point coin grading scale. High-grade uncirculated coins command the highest premiums.
Even average circulated pieces in G4 to AU detail are worth considerably more than the silver melt value.
Collectors also favor eye appeal like:
- Colorful rainbow or blue-green natural toning on silver coins
- Exceptional strike showing full detail in Liberty’s hair, feathers, etc.
- Original mint luster in protected areas for uncirculated specimens
Key Date Silver Half Dollars
Certain half-dollar years have extra demand from date collectors attempting to complete a set in folders or albums. These more scarce dates trade for high premiums over common issues, especially in mint state condition:
|One of the rarest US coins with only 15 known examples
|1853 With Arrows
|Short one-year type coin with added arrows on eagle’s talons
|Low mintage Philadelphia and New Orleans issues
A full set registry of silver half dollars can be viewed at PCGS CoinFacts to track the value of each date and mintmark combination.
Special Varieties Like Doubled Die Coins
In addition to condition rarities and date/mintmark varieties, significant doubled die errors and repunched mintmark coins also attract collector interest and huge premiums. For example, the 1955 Double Die Obverse Franklin half-dollar certified in top grade has traded for nearly $20,000!
Other popular varieties include:
- 1950-D Jefferson nickel with an especially bold D/S mintmark overpunch
- 1937-D Buffalo nickel with the rare three-legged variety missing a front leg from weak die clashing
- The many doubled dies and RPMs found in Washington quarters
How To Tell If A Half-Dollar Is Silver – Conclusion
As you can see, accurately determining the silver content and collectible value of half-dollar coins involves several quick tests and checks. Now that you know what to look for, see if you can find any rare silver treasures in old coin jars or accumulations.
Half dollars from the mid-20th century will continue increasing in numismatic value if they contain precious silver – so start looking and good luck treasure hunting!