US Mint Gains Flexibility in Silver Coin Composition

December 28, 2015 by · 1 Comment 

A small change in the law could soon mean big changes for collector silver coins and sets produced by the United States Mint.

Packaging and Lenses of the 2015 Silver Proof Set

Silver coins in U.S. Mint Silver Proof Sets, like the one from 2015 shown in the photo, are struck in 90% silver and 10% copper. The U.S. Mint now has the authority to strike them in higher silver purities.

The U.S. Mint is no longer required to strike dimes, quarters and half-dollars in a composition of 90% silver and 10% copper. It can now produce them in higher purity such as .999 fine silver.

Congress authorized a rewording of law as part of the Fast Act, which President Obama signed (Public Law No: 114-94) on December 4, 2015. Title LXXIII of the Fast Act, SEC. 73001, offers technical modifications in sections 5112 and 5132 of the United States Code, replacing "90 percent silver and 10 percent copper" with "not less than 90 percent silver."

To some, the switch from the 90/10 mixture to a finer grade may seem trivial. However, for a vast majority of coin collectors and the United States Mint, this change is long over-due.

Aside from the marketing benefits, a study by the U.S. Mint found that coins struck in .999 versus .900 fine silver were advantageous to operations because they resulted in:

  • 3X better die life due to better silver flow
  • 4X less downtime due to reduced die cleaning
  • Less scrap due to reduced hazing
  • Fewer customer returns due to reduced coin spots and hazing

In addition, the U.S. Mint noted that it is easier to obtain .999 fine silver coin blanks.

The Mint has not announced when it will move to the higher purity coins. The San Francisco Mint already started striking 90/10 silver coins for 2016-dated silver proof sets before the legislation became law so that complicates an early adoption.

The change in law does not cover commemorative silver coins but legislation for them has started to include the more flexible composition language.


One Response to “US Mint Gains Flexibility in Silver Coin Composition”
  1. Dwight says:

    Prior to 1965, the U.S. Mint used to make circulating silver coins out of 90% silver alloyed with 10% copper. This 90% silver alloy gave them somewhat better abrasion resistance from ordinary circulation. However since silver coins are no longer used as circulating money, pure silver coins such as the American Silver Eagles or America the Beautiful 5 troy oz. silver coins are now hoarded for their bullion content.

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