What makes a 1971 silver dollar rare? The 1971 silver dollar holds a special place in the hearts of coin collectors and investors. This was the last year that the U.S. Mint produced silver dollars for circulation, making the 1971 coins more scarce and valuable.
If you’re wondering what factors make certain 1971 silver dollars rare and valuable, you’ve come to the right place.
In short, low mintage, special mint marks, and pristine condition can make a 1971 silver dollar a lucrative rarity for collectors and investors.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore all the elements that give the 1971 silver dollars their allure, help you identify rare varieties, and teach you how to assess their condition and value.
Low Mintage of the 1971 Silver Dollars
Last Year 90% Silver Dollars
The year 1971 marked the last time the United States Mint produced silver dollars containing 90% silver. Up until 1964, all dimes, quarters, half dollars, and silver dollars minted for circulation contained 90% silver.
However, with the rising price of silver bullion, the government switched to cheaper metal compositions for coins in 1965. The silver dollar hung on until 1971 when production ceased.
In 1971, the total mintage of silver dollars bearing the Eisenhower design was only 47,799,000 according to the U.S. Mint records. This was considerably lower than mintage totals throughout the 1960s which regularly exceeded 100 million.
The lower mintage makes the 1971 dated silver dollars more collectible to modern numismatists.
Eisenhower Dollar Replaced Silver Dollar
While the last 90% of silver dollars may have been produced in 1971 bearing the Eisenhower design, the mintage of the large 38mm dollar coin itself continued. In 1971, the coin’s composition changed from 90% silver and 10% copper to an outer layer of 80% silver and 20% copper surrounding an inner core of 21% copper and 79% silver for a 40% overall silver content.
This new coin composition was short-lived as rising silver bullion prices led the Mint to alter the coin again in 1973. From 1973 onward, the Eisenhower dollar contained no silver, comprised of the same copper nickel-clad composition used for modern quarter and half dollars.
While Eisenhower dollars continued to be produced for circulation until 1978, the last true 90% silver dollar remains the 1971 dated coins with silver value closely tied to silver bullion spot price.
Scarce 1971-D and 1971-S Mint Marks
1971-D Eisenhower Clad Dollars
The 1971-D Eisenhower dollar is part of the series of Eisenhower dollars minted from 1971 to 1978. While not as rare as some key dates, the 1971-D Eisenhower-clad dollar has a relatively low mintage of 68.5 million compared to over 300 million for other dates.
Most 1971-D Eisenhower dollars traded and collected are called “clad” dollars, meaning the outer layers are 75% copper and 25% nickel, while the inner core is 100% copper. This gave the coins a distinctive brown edge appearance.
Unlike earlier 90% silver coins, the non-precious metal-clad Eisenhower dollars were not widely hoarded when released. Many ended up used in vending machines or casinos before being deposited in banks and eventually destroyed. This further reduced the surviving numbers.
While in well-worn condition these dollars have minimal value, uncirculated examples can trade for $15-25 on average. Truly pristine MS67 or better coins certified by PCGS or NGC can fetch upwards of $75-100 or more among astute collectors.
1971-S 40% Silver Eisenhower Dollars
A scarcer subtype is the 1971-S 40% silver Eisenhower dollar. These were specially produced at the San Francisco Mint with a composition of 40% silver instead of copper-nickel clad.
The purpose was to provide Congressmen and certain government officials with collectible versions of the new dollar coin with precious metal content. Only about 6.8 million 1971-S 40% silver dollars were made, drastically fewer than regular clad strikes.
Most of these silver-version Eisenhower dollars were quickly squirreled away in collections or vaults. Tens of thousands also went to special mint sets issued by the government that year.
As a result of such low original distribution and preservation rates, today even worn examples trade for $25-50. More pristine MS63 and better coins certified by top grading companies can easily fetch upwards of $130-250 at auction or when offered by specialist dealers.
1971-S Silver Proof Dollars
Finally, the most highly valued subtype is the proof version of the 1971-S Eisenhower dollar. These mirror-like coins were sold directly to collectors in special hard plastic cases by the San Francisco Mint.
The proof dollars contain the standard copper-nickel-clad composition. But as collector coins made with special dies and planchets, they showcase crisply struck details and mirror surfaces across the fields and designs.
Only about 3 million proof Eisenhower dollars were made for 1971, down over 50% from some earlier proof issues. Grading company population reports indicate most have survived in pristine grade, thankfully.
Even so, 1971-S proof Eisenhower dollars trade for solidly above face value, thanks again to preserved rarity from the originally small mintage. Attractive PR69 examples certified by NGC or PCGS tend to sell for $25-50 on average. And the very finest graded PR70 coins can bring $100-300 or even more!
Grading Scale for Assessing Condition
When determining the value of a 1971 silver dollar, the most important factor is the coin’s grade or condition. Professional coin graders use a numerical scale from 1 to 70 to assess the amount of wear and tear on a coin, with higher numbers indicating better condition.
Mint State (MS) – Grades 60-70
Coins graded Mint State (abbreviated “MS”) show no wear and still have their original mint luster. An MS70 coin is perfect, while MS60 coins will show small abrasions if you look closely under a magnifying glass. Less than 15% of surviving 1971 silver dollars grade MS65 or higher.
About Uncirculated (AU) – Grades 50-58
About Uncirculated (abbreviated “AU”) coins exhibit light wear on the highest points of the design but still retain most of their original mint luster. An AU50 coin will show slight wear on the high points of the hair, cheek, and dress, while an AU58 coin will show just a tiny fraction of wear.
Extremely Fine (EF) – Grades 40-45
At the Extremely Fine (EF) level, wear is more apparent compared to AU coins, but the major design details remain sharp. On an EF40 coin, the hair, cheek, and dress show moderate wear but all major design elements are still present.
Very Fine (VF) – Grades 20-35
Coins graded Very Fine (VF) exhibit considerable wear on the highest points of the design. On a VF20 coin, the hair, cheek, and dress will be worn smooth with just traces of the original detail visible. By VF35, the major design elements are still recognizable but flattened due to wear.
Fine and Below
Coins graded Fine and below are well-worn with designs merging due to heavy wear. While still recognizable as silver dollars, most collectors do not seek coins graded Fine or below unless they are rare early dates.
This grading scale allows collectors to assess at a glance how well-preserved a 1971 silver dollar is. A higher numeric grade means more remaining detail and eye appeal, which directly translates to higher collector value on the open market.
Most Valuable 1971 Silver Dollar Varieties
The 1971 silver dollar holds a special place in coin collectors’ hearts. While most 1971 dollar coins contain no silver, several rare varieties do, making them highly sought-after by enthusiasts. These scarce releases boast unique attributes setting them apart from common Eisenhower dollars.
1971-S Silver Proof Eisenhower Dollar
The 1971-S proof Eisenhower dollar stands out as one of the key rarities from this series. The San Francisco Mint struck silver proof versions alongside standard copper-nickel clad coins. Only 2,000-3,000 silver proofs entered circulation, making them tough to locate in today’s market.
These mirror-like gems exhibit sharp strikes and dazzling reflective surfaces. As the only Eisenhower dollars with silver content minted for circulation, the 1971-S coins trade for upwards of $300-500 depending on quality. Examples graded PR69 by PCGS or NGC can sell for over $1,000!
1971-D Silver Eisenhower Dollar
A small number of the 1971-D Eisenhower dollars received a silver layer over the outer layers. These were likely test pieces to evaluate different metal compositions. Only 12 confirmed specimens exist. Numismatists debate whether they are official U.S. Mint test strikes or produced privately after the coins left the Denver facility.
Either way, the 1971-D silver Ike dollars count among the rarest 20th-century coin issues ranking alongside famous rarities like the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle. One example certified PR65 Cameo by NGC realized over $60,000 at a 2018 auction!
Other Scarce 1971 Varieties
Less famous than the S mint proof and D mint silver dollars, other 1971 Ikes with odd finishes or planchet errors hold significant value compared to normal specimens:
- 1971 Missing Edge Lettering – Created when cutting rims, worth $750+
- 1971-S Proof Cameo – Deep mirror fields, frosted devices, $125-$200+
- 1971-S Silver Clad – 1.75 million business strikes, $30-$75
While all silver 1971 dollar coins merit inspection, the 1971-S proof and 1971-D silver Ikes make up the crème de la crème. Prospective buyers should beware of counterfeits and altered coins falsely marketed as these rare releases.
Authenticating and Storing Your 1971 Silver Dollars
Authenticating silver dollars from 1971 can ensure you have the real deal before purchasing or selling them. Here are some tips on determining if your coins are genuine:
Examine the Coin’s Details
Use a magnifying glass to inspect the coin’s finer details like the hair strands, face, and text. An authentic coin will have a crisp, clear definition while a fake may look fuzzy. Check for proper spelling and spacing, and that all details match official US mint coins.
Listen to the Coin’s Sound
Gently drop the dollar coin on a hard surface and listen to the ringing sound. Authentic silver dollars have a high-pitched chime versus a dull thud from fakes. The sound indicates the metal composition, with real silver producing a sustained, ringing chime.
Test the Coin’s Weight and Dimensions
Obtain a precision digital scale to weigh the coin. An authentic 1971 silver dollar weighs 26.73 grams. Measure diameter and thickness, which should be 38.1mm and 2.5mm respectively. Fakes tend to over or under-deviate from these specifications.
Assess the Coin’s Reflective Properties
Angle the coin under a light source to examine its reflective surface. Genuine silver dollars have a bright luster radiating from the fields and a glowing sheen on text/images. Fakes tend to look dull gray rather than brilliant white.
Perform a Magnet Test
Use a neodymium magnet to check if the coin sticks. Silver is not magnetic, so an authentic coin won’t react to the magnet. Coins that stick are likely plated fakes or made from magnetic metals like iron or nickel.
Evaluate Surface Condition
Inspect for proof-like surfaces on uncirculated coins or signs of wear on circulated pieces. Heavily worn dollars suggest longevity while suspicious “too good to be true” appearances could mean counterfeits. Compare conditions to images of certified coins in the same grade.
Verify Certification Papers
Cross-reference any certification or grading paperwork with the coin certification company to confirm legitimacy. Call customer service with the coin’s serial number and ensure no record discrepancies. Bogus paperwork is a red flag for fakes.
Use a Coin Dealer or Appraiser
When unsure, consult a reputable coin dealer or appraiser. They have the expert knowledge and advanced equipment to weed out sophisticated counterfeits from authentic coins. Getting a second or third opinion can help seek consensus.
Safe Storage Conditions
To preserve your silver dollars once authenticated, proper storage and handling are key. Some tips include:
- Use protective coin sleeves, cases, or albums to avoid damage/wear
- Store in a cool, dry place away from direct light/moisture
- Avoid touching surfaces to limit fingerprint/dirt buildup
- Handle coins carefully by the edges or wear cotton gloves
- Use anti-tarnish strips to prevent silver discoloration
Following these authentication and storage guidelines will maintain the superior quality and value of your 1971 silver dollars over time. Handling with care and verifying legitimacy gives peace of mind you have the real deal!
What Makes A 1971 Silver Dollar Rare – Conclusion
We’ve covered all the factors that give 1971 silver dollars their allure – low mintage, special mint marks, condition rarity, and more. Now you know exactly what makes certain 1971-dollar coins rare and valuable for collectors.
Armed with this knowledge, you can confidently identify and assess any 1971 silver dollars that come your way. Check for rare mint marks, and gauge condition, and authenticate before purchasing coins or building your collection. Handle and store carefully to preserve value.