Two bits, pieces of eight, or other wise known as Silver Quarters

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US silver quarters

Spanish steps

It’s a little known fact that the US currency is based on the old Spanish system of “eights”. Each coin had eight pieces – these slices, parts, or bits were called “pieces of eight” – and two of them, “two bits” made a quarter.

To coin collectors of United States Mint official coins, silver quarters hold a special place. Iconic is an overused word these days, but for the series of silver coins released as quarters it is the perfect description.

First minted in 1796 – this coin has taken on many guises – and has been discontinued several times, only to be reinstated again.

This has made it one of the most fascinating of all US coins.

Back in 1932, the US government decided to mint silver quarters. The country had just started to climb out of the great Wall Street crash a few years earlier – and was just finding its feet again.

The coins were released with a 90% silver content. Pure silver is very malleable- and in everyday use coins made of .999 fine content would wear quickly and lose their sharpness and impact. To make them tougher – and more resistant to the knocks and scratches they would endure, the coins had copper added to them to make an alloy of the two metals.

Production of these coins continued right up until 1964. This long run, of over 30 years, Has meant that the silver quarter is one of the most prolific US coins ever produced. From a numismatic point of view, most do not have a high value.

This has led to their being labelled “junk silver”.This term is a little misleading, and just means that the silver content of the coin is worth more than the face value. There are some exceptions to this – and as with all coin collecting it depends on variables like the condition of the coin, the rarity in comparison with the number of coins minted, and, of course, what somebody is willing to pay for it.

This is a comprehensive guidance list list for each year of production

You can see from this list that the most valuable of the coins were those minted in the early years of production. This is when the numbers produced were in the hundreds of thousands rather than the millions, in later years.

Making money from junk coins

Since 1965, the quarters have been made from a mix of nickel and copper – and are only worth around 25 cents. It is easy to distinguish the real “silver” coins from the “cupro-nickel” ones – these will have a copper colored line on the side – the silver ones are just silver colored.

As “junk silver” there are really only two ways to make money from most of these coins:

  • Buy low – sell high – so buy up these coins when the silver price is, historically, very low – and sell the silver on when the price rises.
  • The other way is to use the “spread” – or the difference in the price one dealer sells for and another buys for. If you can find a dealer who spread is very low and you can find a buyer who spread is much higher you can make money just dealing between the two.

Because you are only dealing with the value of the silver – and not the investment value of a numismatically important coin – It is easy to work out the silver price as it is simply the spot price of the silver on the day multiplied by the weight of silver in the coin.

Early silver quarters

There have been 10 main issues of quarters over the years – and the early Wright and Draped Bust versions are rare and fetch good prices.

There were only 6,146 of the 1792 quarters issued, for example. After this initial production there were none struck until 1804 – and, even then, these had a different design – an Heraldic Eagle – rather than the earlier small eagle.

Here is a full list of the 10 early issues with some links:

  • Wright 1792
  • Draped Bust 1796–1807
    • Draped Bust, Small Eagle 1796
    • Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle 1804–1807
  • Capped Bust 1815–1838
    • Capped Bust (Large Size), With Motto 1815–1828
    • Capped Bust (Small Size), No Motto 1831–1838
  • Seated Liberty 1838–1891
    • Seated Liberty, No Motto 1838–1865
    • Seated Liberty, With Motto 1866–1891
  • Barber 1892–1916
  • Standing Liberty 1916–1930
    • Standing Liberty (Type 1) 1916–1917 (featured an image of Liberty with one of her breasts exposed)
    • Standing Liberty (Type 2 or Type 2a) 1917–1924
    • Standing Liberty (Type 3 or Type 2b) 1925-1930

It is always worth checking out eBay – or local garage sales and coin collector meets, for that rare coin – you never know what might show up …

Charles Thorngren

Charles Thorngren

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The Morgan Silver Dollar is an essential part of American History. The first was released in 1878 and became an immediate success. We have sourced 3 different versions of this iconic coin. These will be an investment as well as a family heirloom for generations to come.

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