The piggy bank has been a staple for U.S. children as far back as the 1800s. The name “piggy bank” actually is derived from the Old English term “pygg,” the red-orange clay from which people would construct jars to hold their extra money before banks became commonplace. Today kids get excited when they receive a handful of change to feed their in-home, hog-shaped savings machine. What kids (and many adults) do not realize is that some of those circular pieces of metal may be worth more than the 25 or 10 cents you believe them to be. Next time the kids are ready to buy a few candy bars or the newest Avengers action figure, it behooves them to take a closer look at the currency being used.
Coinage Act of 1965
Silver had been one of the main ingredients in U.S. legal tender coins since President George Washington’s Coinage Act of 1792. The next 170-plus years would see the use of silver grow exponentially in industry, while production of the metal lagged behind. The Silver Purchase Act of 1934 (and the Gold Seizure of 1933), under President Franklin Roosevelt, also played a major role in the price of silver ultimately exceeding its fiat value by the time Lyndon Johnson became president. Johnson was forced to take action or risk inevitable shortages of U.S. coins. The Coinage Act of 1965 substantially reduced the amount of silver used in legal tender coins, specifically in dimes, quarters, and half-dollars.
Pre-1964 Dimes and Quarters
Any quarter or dime from 1963 or earlier is made of 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper. In Europe, these coins would actually be considered bullion and potentially sold as “pure” silver coins by dealers like US Money Reserve and even local coin sellers. Silver closed at $29.04 per ounce on March 8, while copper closed at $3.52 per pound. This means pre-1964 quarters, which weigh 6.25 grams total, are actually worth $5.25 as of publishing. Dimes of that era are worth $2.10.
If you’re lucky enough to find a pre-1964 Ben Franklin half-dollar, those are worth a whopping $10.47 today. The JFK half-dollars, from 1965-1970, were still composed of 40 percent silver (and 60 percent copper), thus worth $4.28. The only nickels worth more than their face values were minted from 1942 to 1945. Banks will sell you rolls of any coins you wish. One precious rare coin could be worth the value of a fine Swarvoski crystal. Like buying a pack of baseball cards, you never know what you might find inside.
Canada has already ceased production of pennies, while President Barack Obama has indicated he is in favor of doing the same. But don’t just blindly throw them all away. All pennies dated 1982 and earlier are composed of 95 percent copper. At current market prices, this would make said pennies worth 2 cents.
The lessons kids can learn about money just by looking at the dates embossed on their piggy-bank booty are literally and figuratively valuable for their early financial educations and portfolios.