Collector's Corner: U.S. Silver Coins and the Great Melts
By Michele Alice
When, in the 1970's, brothers Nelson and William Hunt attempted to corner the market in silver, they managed to push its price from $5 an ounce at the beginning of 1979 up to $50 an ounce by early 1980. All bubbles burst, and by March 27, 1980 (infamously known as "Silver Thursday") the price had fallen to $10.80 and the Hunts had to scramble to avoid bankruptcy.
The Coinage Act of 1965, of course, had removed silver from circulating coins and authorized that cupronickel clad coins be used instead for the half dollar, quarter dollar, and dimes, taking the place of the silver coins that had been minted. Gresham's Law took over, and many people began saving silver coins to piggy banks and dresser drawers as the intrinsically less valuable fiat money entered circulation.
But when silver prices began to skyrocket in 1979, the promise of easy money was too great. Almost anything made of silver - from antique tea services to jewelry to coins - ended up being sold to dealers who, in turn, sold the items to refiners for their bullion content. Dealers tried to cull important pieces, but the sheer volume was so great that to this day it is unknown how many rare and valuable items found their way into the melting pots.
More importantly to numismatists today, "The Great Melts" affected coin values in ways that are still undetermined. Today, the 1962 Franklin half dollar is one of the most cited examples of the problems with relying on official mintage numbers.
Franklin halves (1948-1963) were produced in the millions. The 1953 and 1955 Franklins had the lowest mintages with about 2.5 million each compared to the average of a little over 13 million. Mintage figures for the 1962 were 9,714,000 regular strikes and 3,218,019 proofs, making them fairly common. (Proof coins carry a premium as they are specially struck to produce fine details and mirror finishes and are not meant for circulation.)
Unfortunately for collectors today, the series was not especially popular. Relatively few of the coins remained in uncirculated condition, and by 1979, silver prices had risen so high that not only were circulated coins being melted, but even proofs were not safe from the refiners as their bullion value exceeded their value to collectors.
It is not known how many of the Franklin halves succumbed to the melts of '79 and '80, but today they are relatively rare, with values to match. Many are selling for much more than would be expected for common mid-20th century coins. 1962 Franklins in the highest grades, with full bell lines (FBL) on the Liberty Bell on the reverse, have sold for $10,000 and more!
The story is the same for many other silver coins. No one knows how many were destroyed, making them today relatively rare. And with the price of silver bullion again inching up, people are once again selling what coins they may have left, but this time the coins may (unbeknownst to their owners) be worth much more than their bullion content!
Interested in learning more about silver coins? Check out the resources listed below, and
After the Melts: What's Left in Silver Coins? - Link to website - This great article by Ed Reiter dates to January 19, 1999, but still quite pertinent to the state of coin markets today.
American Numismatic Association (ANA) - Link to website - Founded in 1891 to aid and educate collectors of "money and related items." Publishes The Numismatist, sponsors conventions and other events, and maintains a money museum. Invaluable website offers Glossary, FAQs, NGC Grading Guide, more.
Coin Mintages - Link to website - Descriptions of U.S. coin series accompanied by mintage charts and photos.
Guide to Franklin Half Dollars - Link to website - Detailed description of the series, photos, info on other half-dollar series, more.
Melting Attractive Option for Franklin - Link to website - This article by Paul M. Green updates the situation with Franklin halves.
Proof Coins - What Are They? - Link to website - Nice description of differences between "uncirculated" and "proof" coins.
Coinflation - Link to website - Check out the Intrinsic Value tables (melt values) for U.S. and foreign coinage. Articles, coin calculators, more.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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