How to Calculate Silver Dollar Values

An 1879 Morgan Silver Dollar
An 1879 Morgan Silver Dollar

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Silver Dollar Contents Table
  3. Calculating Melt Values
  4. Using the Coinflation iPhone App
  5. Numismatic (Collectible) Values
  6. Coin Grading
  7. Mint locations and Mint Mark Identification
  8. Coin Price Look Up - Magazines & Books
  9. Error Coins & Variety Coins

Knowing how to calculate silver dollar values is a great skill. I've had it come up numerous times in conversation which has led to people showing me their entire collections for a basic valuation, and sometimes the opportunity to buy!

In this article, I'll show you how to calculate silver dollar values, as well as provide tips on spotting potentially higher value silver dollars. Knowing how to calculate silver dollar values will help you spot deals when you see them.

There is one important truth you must know before you read anything else in this article: Just because a coin is old, it doesn't make it more valuable necessarily. Too many people think just because their coin is 125 years old, it must be worth hundreds- most aren't.

Silver Content of US Dollars - Table

Date (Years)
Silver Content (Troy Ounces)
Silver Content (Grams)
Silver Content (% of weight)
1794 - 1873
.7736
24.06
90%
1873-1885
.7878
24.50
90%
1878-1935
.7736
24.06
90%
1971 - 1976 (S Mint Only)
.3162
9.836
40%
Table of the Silver Content of US Silver Dollars

How to Calculate Silver Dollar Melt Values

Finding the melt value of coins
Finding the melt value of coins | Source

Vocabulary

Composition: The composition of a coin are the materials which make it up. A Morgan silver dollar's composition is 90% silver 10% copper.

Melt Value: The value of the Silver when you melt it down and sell the silver content.

Morgan Dollar: This was the silver dollar minted during the years of 1878-1904 and briefly in 1921.

Numismatic Value: The collectible value of the coin. This takes other factors into account such as rarity and condition.

Spot Price: The current price per ounce. I use Kitco.com to find the current price.

Troy Ounce: This is the measure of mass used for precious metals. There is about 31.1 grams in a Troy ounce whereas there is 28.35 grams in a standard ounce.

How to Calculate Silver Dollar Values: Melt Value

When I evaluate a person's collection on the spot, I tend to calculate the silver value (aka melt value). The reason is so I can give them the absolute rock bottom price their collection is worth.

Of course, I let them know their collection is probably worth more because many of these coins have a collectors value above the melt value. Always be transparent with people you are buying from.

Silver Content Melt Value

Calculating the silver content value of silver dollars is the easiest way to get a baseline value, and it is very simple too.

You need three pieces of information:

  1. The current price per ounce.
  2. The weight of the coin in troy ounces.
  3. The percentage of silver contained in the coin (Composition).

With those three pieces of information, you can figure out the melt value of a coin. Simply weigh the coin using a pocket scale, multiply it by the percentage of silver in the coin, and multiply it by the current price per ounce.

Example: calculate silver dollar melt values

Let's say I need to calculate a 1879 Morgan silver dollar's value.

Remember, we need to know three things:

  1. Current price of Silver
  2. Weight of the coin
  3. and what it's composition is (what percentage is silver).

How do I find the current price of silver?

Before we jump into the example, I'll answer this question. To look up the current price of Silver (spot price) I use Kitco.com. Many other websites provide this information including Coinflation.com.

How to calculate the value of a 1879 Morgan Silver Dollar

For our example, we'll say:

  1. Current Price of Silver: $31.83/troy ounce
  2. Weight of coin: 26.73 grams
  3. Composition of coin: 90% Silver

Instructions to calculate the melt value

  1. Weigh your coin in either troy ounces or grams. Our coin weighs 26.73 grams.
  2. If you weighed in grams, then convert it to troy ounces by dividing the weight in grams by the weight of a troy ounce in grams (31.1 grams). Our example coin weighs .859 troy ounces (26.73 grams / 31.1 grams).
  3. Now, we know how much our coin weighs overall, but we need to account for ONLY the silver in the coin. We know our Morgan dollar is 90% silver, so we will multiply the weight we got in step 2 by .9 (90%) and we are left with .7731 troy ounces. Our Morgan Dollar is composed of .7731 troy ounces of Silver.
  4. Finally, to get the value of the Silver, we multiply the weight (in troy ounces) by the current price of silver($31.83 in this example). Our Morgan Dollar is worth $24.53 (.7731 * $31.83).

Pitfall:

There is one primary pitfall in this example: we didn't weigh the coin! In real world scenarios, you'll want to actually weigh the coin as coins can wear down significantly over the years which means lost silver value! You can use a simple pocket scale like the ones on the right to weigh coins.

Watch the video above if this is confusing at all. The exact process I've outlined in these instructions is the same process I use in the video above titled "How to Calculate Silver Dollar Melt Values."

Using Coinflation App to Calculate Silver Dollar Values

Calculate Silver Dollar Values with Coinflation

There are other resources available if you want to get a rough melt value for a silver dollar. I highly suggest the following:

Coinflation - Website

This website will show you the melt values of US and Canadian coins. It's a marvelous website and it is very easy to use. If you are on a computer when coins are in front of you, this is one of the easiest ways to estimate silver dollar values.

Coinflation - iPhone App

If you have an iPhone or iPod, then I highly suggest Coinflation's iPhone app. It is an application you can download to your phone, and it literally allows you to determine the value of coins by entering in the quantity of each coin. Watch the video above if you want to see me using it.

Remember: Coinflation doesn't take coin wear into account, which means it will give you a slightly inflated value.

Vocabulary

Errors: The mint tries to mint coins perfectly, but errors happen. Errors make coins more valuable.

Grade: Coins are graded on a 1-70 scale where 70 is flawless and 1 is nearly unidentifiable.

Mint: Where the coin was minted.

Numismatic Value: The collectible value of the coin. This takes other factors into account such as rarity and condition.

Variety: Coins are often minted identically, but sometimes, there are differences between coins of the same year, but from a different mint. The rarer the variety, the more valuable the coin.

Numismatic Value

In this section, you will learn tips about what to watch out for to spot coins which are potentially more valuable.

This part of the article is fairly brief as this topic is not only extremely subjective, but there are numerous more accurate ways to determine numismatic value besides trying to judge it on your own.

Instead I'll provide tips on things to look for, and the tools you can use to judge numismatic value accurately. To judge a numismatic coin's value, you'll need:

  1. The coin's grade (condition).
  2. The year it was minted.
  3. Where it was minted.
  4. Identify any possible types of mint errors or coin varieties.
  5. A resource to look the value up.

These will be covered below.

Coin Grades

G: Good
VG: Very Good
F: Fine
VF: Very Fine
EF: Extra Fine
AU: Almost Uncirculated
BU: Brilliant Uncirculated
FDC: Fleur de Coin (primarily used in European countries)
MS: Mint State (BU and FDC are both classified under MS)

On the 1-70 scale, coins graded 60 - 70 are considered MS or 'Mint State',

Grading Coin Condition

Coin grading is an art, not really a science. Coin grading happens on a scale of 1 - 70 where 70 is flawless and 1 is... well, almost unidentifiable.

There are companies out there who certify and grade coins, and they are reputed to have a fairly consistent process. Some of these coin grading companies include:

Additionally, you'll see other phrases paired up, which I'm including on the right.

Grading is what makes this part of the article so difficult. There is a massive price difference between a coin with an MS65 rating and an MS70 rating, but not nearly as much of a difference between an AU50 and AU55.

You need to know how to roughly grade a coin visually, so it is good to learn the basics. Below are some resources which will help you learn how to grade a coin.

Coin Grading Resources:

Year of Mint

Remember what I said in the beginning: because a Silver Dollar is old, it doesn't make it more valuable necessarily. However, there are certain dates, called key dates, that are more valuable.

The specific reasons are numerous, but boil down to one main reason: rarity. Here are some of the primary reasons a coin is considered a key date:

  • Few were minted that year.
  • Many were melted down and turned into new coins because the value of Silver or Gold went up.
  • They had errors.

Where was my coin minted?

The United States mints coins in multiple facilities, some of which are no longer in use. Below are some of the mints you might encounter. Some coins are more valuable because of the mint they came from.

To identify where your coin came from, look for a letter stamped on it. If there is none, then it was most likely minted at the Philadelphia mint, unless it is a special, commemorative coin of some sort, in which case it was probably minted at West Point. Use the years to help identify where the coin might have been minted.

Mint Mark
Mint Location (Years Active)
C
Charlotte (1838-1861)
CC
Carson City (1870-1893)
D
Dahlonega (1838-1861)
D
Denver (1906-Present)
M or none
Manila (1920-1922, 1925-1941)
O
New Orleans (1838-1909)
P or none
Philadelphia ( 1793-Present)
S or none
San Francisco (1854-Present)
W or none
West Point (1973-Present)
gold coin with Carson City mintmark.
gold coin with Carson City mintmark.

Carson City Mintmark:

A very easy coin to identify are coins minted from the Carson City mint, which have this mint mark to the right.

These are very easy to identify and always carry a higher premium because of the rarity of coins from this mint. Especially rare are Morgan Dollars from this mint because many were melted down.

How to Calculate Silver Dollar Values: Numismatic Value

Once you know how to estimate the grade of a coin, you're ready to look up the value of the coin. There are a couple of resources which allow you to look up the value of a coin.

Coin Value Magazines

For serious coin investors, they tend to use weekly or monthly magazines as these have more up-to-date prices.

The most popular are Numismatic News (weekly), Coins Magazine (Monthly) and Coin Prices (every 2 months).

Coin Value Books

For the casual investor, they might prefer a book they only have to purchase once a year. Being that coin prices change dramatically, the magazines are the better route to go, but the books are certainly an excellent starting point if you can't swing the extra $20 each year.

The Red book provides the value that you could expect to sell a coin for retail, and the Blue book is basically considered the "dealers" prices which are lower than what you find in the Red book.

Other Coin Value Resources

You would think online prices are easy to come by, but they are actually quite difficult. Some of the magazines you subscribe to may give you access to their online database as a benefit of your subscription, but free, accurate databases are hard to find.

The only one I currently suggest people to use is the one offered by PCGS (a coin grading company). Visit the PCGS coin value database if you need to look coin values up only when in front of a computer.

Vocabulary

Errors: Errors are problems that happened during the minting of an individual coin, or a couple of coins randomly. An example is an off-center struck coin where the face is at the edge of the coin.

Varieties: Varieties are variations that occurred during the minting of many of the same coins which indicates a variation in the die used. An example is extra tail feathers on the bird on the back of a Morgan Dollar.

Error Coins & Variety Coins

Error coins are big business in the coin collecting world. There thousands of errors you can look for, and it will take some practice to identify them, but valuing them is much harder.

Depending on how rare the error, and how bad, you may need to have the coin professionally appraised. When you get into error coin territory, the value is really what people are willing to pay for it, and the values can vary wildly!

Below are resources for different errors and varieties and I discuss some of the errors that are easiest to spot with your unaided eye.

Die rotation error.
Die rotation error. | Source

Die Rotation Error

When a coin is minted, they use a device called a "die" to hit the metal really hard and place the image into the coin. When you hold a coin in your hand and flip it vertically, the back should now face upwards perfectly.

The mint tries really hard to make sure the die rotation is perfect, but sometimes, when you flip a coin over vertically, the back of it isn't perfectly vertical. This is called a die rotation error and the worse it is, the more valuable the coin.

Off-center struck penny.
Off-center struck penny. | Source

Off-Center Strike

An off-center strike occurs when the coin planchet (blank) lands into the collar of the coin press improperly, then the dies smash together and the off-center coin is born. This is a fairly common type of error, but the worse it is, the more valuable. Especially on rarer coins.

Other Errors

Errors can mean huge money in the coin collecting world. I highlighted the die rotation error which is probably the easiest error to spot, and takes only two seconds to check. There are many other errors that require a bit more educated of an eye to watch for.

Additionally, you'll need a loupe (like the ones to the right) to identify many of these error. This is probably the best resource for mint errors and it includes images along with values for the types of errors: CoinNews - Types of Mint Errors.

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Comments 3 comments

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country

Very complete and interesting information for the collector. You did a great job on this.


debris profile image

debris 3 years ago from Florida Author

Thank you Rochelle! It took me quite a few hours to put this one together :-D I hope it serves everyone well.


LisaKeating 2 years ago

Interesting hub. Lots of valuable info. Coin collecting is not my niche. It seems to more complicated than some areas of collecting. I think coins can be quite beautiful. I will be keeping my eye out for mistakes though!

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