Junk silver is an informal term used in the United States and Canada for any silver coin which is in only fair condition and has no collectible value above the bullion value of the silver it contains. Such coins are popular amongst those seeking to invest in silver, particularly in small amounts. The word "junk" refers only to the value of the coins as a numismatic collectible and not to the actual condition of the coins; junk silver is not necessarily scrap silver.
The most commonly collected U.S. junk silver pieces are Mercury and Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters, and Franklin and Kennedy half dollars, minted in or before 1964. These coins have a 90% silver composition ("coin silver"), and when minted contained 0.7234 troy ounces of silver per dollar of face value. In practice, the content is usually assumed to be 0.715 ounces because of wear. Less common as junk silver are Kennedy half dollars from 1965 to 1970, which contained 40% silver. Peace Dollars may also be collected for their silver value, but are also less common.
Canadian dimes and quarters contained 80% silver (0.600 troy ounces per dollar of face value) until 1966. In 1967, they were minted in both 80% and 50% varieties. In 1968 they either contained 50% silver, or none at all (Cupro-Nickel). Dollars and half dollars were minted in 80% silver until 1967.
Junk silver coins may be a desirable method of investing in silver for several reasons:
Junk silver can often be purchased for little or no premium over the spot price of silver, particularly during periods of economic stability.
Junk U.S. and Canadian coins remain legal tender, and will always be worth at least their face value, regardless of the price of silver.
Though not as common as they once were, junk silver coins are still somewhat well-known, and may be less likely to have their value disputed than silver bars or rounds.
Junk silver coins can be easily spent or traded in small amounts; as of March 2008, the silver in a U.S. silver dime was worth less than US$1.50. In contrast, silver bullion coins and bars are rarely smaller than one ounce, while gold and other precious metals are highly valued in even minuscule amounts.
For some of these reasons, junk silver is popular among survivalists. In the event of a crisis or catastrophe during which traditional currency collapses, it is speculated that silver coins could provide a viable alternative, temporarily or indefinitely.