Silver Coinage Ends
If you drop a silver quarter onto a hard tabletop, a pure metallic ringing will arise, pleasant to the ear, a brilliant tone. Where have all the silver coins gone? Long time passing.
Indeed, a long time ago, U.S. coins were made of silver, gold or copper and nickel, but today’s coins are minted from zinc or brass or manganese, clad with cupro-nickel. They no longer contain precious metals – no silver, no gold.
If you ever get your hands on a silver coin, be sure to keep it, but odds are you will have a tough time finding one. The U.S. Treasury quit making dimes and quarters of silver way back in 1964.
Here’s the deal. In the early 1960s, coins became scarce, because consumption of silver rose above quantities of being mined, creating a shortage. Silver was heavily used for photographic film, tooth fillings, jewelry and tableware. Therefore, in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson and his Treasury Department asked Congress for legislation to eliminate silver coins.
These “silverless” dimes and quarters would instead consist of a mainly-copper core with an exterior of copper-nickel alloy – a sandwich of cheaper-metals that came to be known as “clad coins.” If you drop a modern “clad coin” upon a tabletop, it will produce a dull clang.
On this date in 1964 the Bismarck Tribune headlined a story about an effort by U.S. senators to mint 45 million new silver dollars, during the coin-shortage crisis. But this measure went nowhere.
Instead, Congress approved the elimination of silver from dimes and quarters, and reduced the portion of silver in Kennedy half-dollars from 90 percent to 40 percent, and the silver was removed totally in 1970.
The cheaper clad coins began circulating in late 1965. Silver coins continued in circulation, but sharp-eyed collectors began to stash them away. For several years, there were plenteous silver-dimes and silver-quarters still passing through the economy, often turning up in laundromats and other coin vending.
How can you find silver dimes and quarters today? Well, metal-detector hobbyists search for these old coins with sophisticated coin-finders, since careless people have always been dropping coins, meaning the landscape is literally littered with coins.
Also, sort through your pocket-change, looking for coins dated 1964 or earlier. You never know!
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department
“Solons Urge More Silver Dollars Minted,” Bismarck Tribune, June 17, 1964, p. 18.
“Silverless Coins Will Appear Soon,” Bismarck Tribune, October 14, 1965, p. 8.
Sylvia Porter, “Silverless Coins Will Be ‘Sandwich,’” Minneapolis Tribune, March 23, 1965, p. 5.
Sylvia Porter, “Questions Answered on Silverless Coins,’” Minneapolis Tribune, March 24, 1965, p. 7.
“LBJ Signs Measure for Sandwich Coins,” Minneapolis Tribune, July 24, 1965, p. 2.
“Bill on New Coins Signed by Johnson,” Bismarck Tribune, July 23, 1965, p. 11.
Charles W. Bailey, “Silverless Coins Asked by President,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 4, 1965, p. 6.