How to Determine the Real Value of Old Silver Dollars

by Andrew Lisa
Depending on age and condition, silver dollars can sell for thousands of dollars.

So you've decided it's time to figure out how much you can get for those old silver dollars that a relative left you when she passed away. Silver dollars that are made of actual silver can be decades or even centuries old, and can be rare and valuable. You'll want to know their value before you take them down to your local coin dealer to sell.

Determine Melt Value

Weigh your silver dollar to ascertain how much silver could be recovered if your coin were melted. Coin scales (also called jewelry scales or numismatic scales), which measure in grams, are available online or in any hobby shop starting at around $10. Be aware that the blanket term "silver dollar" is used to describe all coins that are worth one dollar, but the last true silver dollars — the ones made of mostly silver — were minted in 1964. If your "silver dollar" is from 1965 or later, it's made of mostly a cheaper alloy or contains no silver at all.

Determine the current price of silver. Silver is traded on the commodities exchange and its price can vary, sometimes sharply, from one moment to the next. The current value of commodities such as silver can be found in the business section of most major business media websites such as CNN's Money Index: money.cnn.com/data/commodities.

Use a melt-value calculator like the one at coinapps.com/silver/dollar/calculator to determine how much your coin is worth for just its weight in silver. This is the base price of your coin.

Identify Your Coin

Find the year that your silver dollar was minted. It's printed on the coin, usually on the front or back on the bottom of the image.

Find your coin's mint mark, which is an inscription that indicates the U.S. Mint branch where the coin was struck. The mark, which is usually a letter denoting a city of origin, and its location on the coin vary by date from coin to coin. This guide will help you find the mark: collectorscorner.org/mark.html

Use a guide like this one at coinfacts.com/silver_dollars/silver_dollars.html to help determine which type of silver dollar you have. There are several varieties of U.S. silver dollars, with the most common including, from most to least valuable, in general: Bust Dollars (1794-1803), Seated Liberty Dollars (1836-1873), Morgan Silver Dollars (1878-1921) and Peace Dollars (1921-1935).

Determine Condition and Book Value

Examine your coin carefully and use a guide like this one at acoin.com/grading.htm to try to determine its condition. Coin grading is a complicated procedure that requires skill and experience, so don't expect that you'll be able to determine an exact grade. There are several grades of coin conditions used in the industry, with most systems using these most often: Poor (P), Good (G), Very Good (VG), Fine (F), Very Fine (VF) Extremely Fine (XF), Almost Uncirculated (AU), Uncirculated (U) and special "proof" states, in which the coin is dyed with chemical treatments.

Find a pricing guide like this one at coins.ha.com/ref/beginners-price-guide.zx and determine your coin's value. Keep in mind that prices fluctuate, so try and use the most up-do-date guides.

Shop around to several local coin dealers or private collectors to see who will give you the best price. Don't shop around until you're armed with enough research so that you know roughly what the market should bear. You shouldn't assume all collectors and dealers are dishonest, but they're generally trying to make money as well, so you should always assume they're going to quote you prices that are in their best interest, which might not involve paying you top-dollar prices. Thus, getting several quotes decreases the odds you'll get low-balled when selling.

References

About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. A graduate of Hofstra University, he was a section editor for "amNewYork", the most widely distributed paper in Manhattan. He was a nationally syndicated columnist with Gannett News Service, the largest news syndicate in the country, and works as a writer in Los Angeles.

Photo Credits

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