40 years ago …

America’s LAST 40% silver coins 

40 years ago in 1976, the U.S. Mint ended a short-lived experiment when it struck the last 40% silver coins in U.S. history. The coins, issued to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, are perennial collector favorites both for their unique designs and their unusual silver content. 

The short history of 40% silver coins starts in 1965 with the Kennedy Half Dollar. Silver prices had been shooting up in the early 1960’s – and when silver surpassed $1.29 per ounce in mid-1963, the silver value of dimes, quarters, and half dollars (all of which were struck in 90% silver) became greater than their face values. 

To prevent the wholesale melting of silver coins for quick profits, Congress authorized Kennedy Half Dollars to be struck in 40% silver starting n 1965. At the same time, the composition of dimes and quarters was changed to copper-nickel. Kennedy Half Dollars were struck in 40% silver only until 1970; in 1971, with silver prices still rising, the composition also changed to copper-nickel. 

Although the 40% silver experiment appeared to be over, the U.S. Mint brought it back for one more year in 1976. In that year, one-time-only Bicentennial quarters, half dollars, and dollars were released into circulation to commemorate the nation’s 200th birthday. At the same time these coins were struck in copper-nickel for circulation, special collector-only editions were made in 40% silver. Few people in 1976 knew about the 40% silver coins! 

Each of the 1976 40% silver coins was made in a strictly limited edition in both uncirculated and proof quality. Today, these rarely seen 40% silver coins are a great reminder of the U.S. Mint’s attempt to retain silver coins as part of its heritage. In addition, collectors have always loved the beauty of silver coins – and the 40% silver Bicentennial coins add a touch of elegance to any collection.


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