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What is Junk Silver?

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  • Written By: Emma G.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
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In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, a coin that has no collectible value but has silver in it is known as junk silver. The word junk is misleading. It does not mean that the coin is worthless, but that the coin is valuable only for the silver it contains rather than as a collector's piece. Any coin that contains silver can be junk silver.

Silver and other precious metals are measured in troy ounces (ozt). One troy ounce is equal to slightly more than 31 grams, while one standard ounce is equal to just a little more than 28 grams. The price of junk silver depends on how many troy ounces of 99.9 percent pure silver the coin contains. Most coins are not solid silver. Instead, they are made of a silver alloy containing 35 to 90 percent silver.

Junk silver is often used as a way to invest in silver in low amounts. It has several advantages over bulk silver in the form of bars or rounds. Buying silver in bars or rounds can sometimes accrue charges from brokers or other administrative expenses. As it is usually traded in small amounts, there is rarely any premium charge over the market price of the silver. Trading in small amounts also allows the junk silver investor to buy a little bit of silver at a time so no large expenditure is required.

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The other advantage to this type of silver is that it is legal tender. A junk silver coin can always be spent to buy more tangible items. Even if the price of silver falls, the coin retains its face value.

Junk silver can be bought from precious metal dealers, silver dealers, and even coin collector shops. Dealers generally buy it in bags, an amount of silver worth about $1,000 US Dollars (USD). The bag usually contain coins with either 90 or 40 percent silver. A 90 percent bag will contain 715 ozt, while a 40 percent bag will contain 295 ozt.

Many modern coins contain little or no silver and so are rarely valuable as junk silver. Older coins contain higher concentrations of precious metals. For instance, many coins minted in the US before 1964 contained up to 90 percent silver. These include dollars, quarters, and even the Jefferson wartime nickel. Common junk silver coins in the UK were minted before 1946, such as crowns, half crowns, and florins.

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