Last Modified: Monday, April 28, 2014 4:16 PM
When did the government begin adulterating the silver dollar? What percentage of silver was in the dollar, and what other materials were used?
They reduced the size of the silver dollar. What’s the content of silver now in the dollar? How much silver is in quarters and dimes, and is the penny still copper?
The U.S. silver dollar — minted intermittently in six designs from 1794 to 1935 — never contained more than 90 percent silver, with copper accounting for the remaining percentage.
The U.S. government in the 1970s produced dollar coins featuring President Dwight D. Eisenhower. But the Ike dollar — 1.5 inches in diameter like its predecessors — didn’t prove popular, so the U.S. Mint went with a smaller coin and a new design: the much maligned 1-inch-diameter Susan B. Anthony dollar.
The use of silver in the production of coins for circulation — that is, use by the public as legal tender — ceased about a half-century ago, though Kennedy half dollars continued to contain some silver through 1970.
“After reaching its maximum usage around the beginning of the twentieth century, the American silver dollar coin began to die,” writes Jack Weatherford in “The History of Money.”
“In 1935, during the Great Depression, the U.S. Treasury ended the minting of silver dollars; then, with the passage of the Coinage Act of 1965, they ceased using silver in American coins, replacing it with copper covered in cupronickel.”
The composition of the seven legal tender coins produced by the U.S. Mint:
Penny — Copper-plated zinc; 2.5 percent copper and the rest zinc.
Nickel — Cupro-nickel; 25 percent nickel and the rest copper.
Dime — Cupro-nickel; 8.33 percent nickel and the rest copper.
Quarter — Cupro-nickel; 8.33 percent nickel and the rest copper.
Half dollar — Cupro-nickel; 8.33 percent nickel and the rest copper.
Presidential dollar — Manganese-brass; 88.5 percent copper, 6 percent zinc, 3.5 percent manganese and 2 percent nickel.
Native American dollar — Manganese-brass; 88.5 percent copper, 6 percent zinc, 3.5 percent manganese and 2 percent nickel.
“The two dollar coins are golden in color, created by a mixture of metals (none of them gold),” reads the website of the U.S. Mint.
“These dollar coins have the same ‘electromagnetic signature’ as their predecessor, the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) dollar, which was silver in color. Keeping this signature allows older vending machines to accept the new coins without being retrofitted.”
So far this year, the U.S. Mint has produced more than 2 billion pennies, nearly 300 million nickels, 575 million dimes, close to 500 million quarters, 4.6 million half dollars, almost 32 million presidential dollars and 8.68 million Native American dollars.
The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098 and leave voice mail, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.