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What Was The Rate Of Wear On Circulating Silver Coinage Back In The Day?

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Author Previous TopicReplies: 9 / Views: 675Next Topic  
Valued Member
United States
146 Posts
 Posted 04/12/2021  10:14 pm Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add newguy22 to your friends list Get a Link to this Message

I'm stealing these images from a reddit post that was posted today on their coins page, so feel free to go over there and check it out if interested. I am not taking any credit for these images, but I'd love to ask you all a question.

So apparently, this guy found this Morgan inside the walls of a home built around 1896. Assuming it has been sitting there since, can we guess that the wear on this coin would be the result of having circulated for 18 years?

The reason I am asking this question is because from my experience, coins made today with copper-nickel don't seem to wear down as quickly as older silver coins did before. In my change, I find coins from the 70s and 80s that are still in relatively good shape. I would be lying if I told myself that most coins from 2000 or 2002 are in G-VF condition, which is the same amount of time that had passed from 1878-1896. Did silver coins back in the day wear down at a more rapid rate than coins made today? Is it possible to gauge how many years a coin circulated judging by the amount of wear it displays?

I feel this question could be interesting for studying coins that were minted in specific places for specific moments in history, say colonial pieces or provincial pieces. Judging the wear on a coin could indicate whether it was used or not, and whether it circulated for much longer than anticipated (say, for example, an 1897 Spanish colonial Philippines Peso, which America began occupying by 1898).

For older individuals on this forum, would any of you happen to remember the shape most silver coins in circulation were in before they were all pulled from circulation? Say, for example, the condition a half dollar minted in the 1930s was in by the 1950s? (Maybe this a silly question because many of my walkers from the 40s are pretty heavily circulated, assuming they were all pulled by the 60s).
Pillar of the Community
United States
4956 Posts
 Posted 04/12/2021  11:38 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Numisma to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
For starters, silver is just a softer metal than copper-nickel. Coin silver is a bit more resistant, but I believe it still wears more quickly.
Another factor is that coins just circulated a lot more back in the day. While a circulating coin in the late 19th century might have changed hands on a semi-daily basis, a typical coin today might get given in change, sit in a jar for a year or two, then go back to get rolled up and sit some more.
Considering that, I don't think this example is that worn for 18 years of old-fashioned circulation.

As a related anecdote, two of my pocket pieces are an 1885-O Morgan and a 2000 ASE. The ASE started in November 2020 and is down from MS to low XF or so in under five months. The Morgan, which started in April 2016, is down from maybe high AG to low AG in five years. I carry them around pretty much everywhere.
Edited by Numisma
04/12/2021 11:38 pm
Bedrock of the Community
18724 Posts
 Posted 04/13/2021  01:21 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add sel_69l to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
1. The average rate loss of weight per year of circulation
is greater for smaller coins than it is for larger coins,
because they have a greater surface area per weight of a single coin.

2. Silver Dimes were in far grater demand for circulation than silver Dollars,
and thus saw much more circulation per coin.

The ANS may have a published paper in this regard, hopefully with some sort of statistical analysis.
Pillar of the Community
New Zealand
2795 Posts
 Posted 04/13/2021  06:00 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Princetane to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Entirely, Silver is very soft and wears very quickly. Especially if it was in a humid climate or warm place. Mainly tropics and subtropics, but also you guys in the USA as even in the north and east, you had hot summers!

My own studies show that silver coins of NZ minted in 1933 - 1946 are mostly found in G and VG condition, Fine is less common and VF is a premium, EF and better are very scarce and prices reflect this.

Average to slightly better than average NZ coins.

Most only circulated 10 - 15 years to go from UNC down to VG, some may have been used up to the 1960s before we went decimal, but to pay WW2 loans to UK and USA, as much silver as possible was ferreted out from 1950 onwards.

Cupronickel has survived better, you would be hard pressed to find even a 1947 coin in less than Fine or almost Fine

A lot of standard scrap 1947 - 1952 KGVI cupronickel of NZ, most are Fine heading up to VF, some stained. Many were used 20 years to 1967 and some 6d, 1/- and 2/- circulated through to 2006 and still remained fine.

Bronze is more durable than copper, many bronze pennies remained recognisable back to 1900 (UK, NZ pennies from 1940 onwards are always F - VF and EF for 1960s). Only Bun head pennies from the 1890s backwards are flat discs mainly as they were low relief.

Standard worn flat Bun head penny, this coin probably spent 100 years in criculation

Standard penny from 100 years ago (Spent about 50 - 60 years in circulation, yet still VG - Fine condition).

I would say silver coins wore very fast. My guesses of standard times assuming the coin was a Quarter or a Shilling and used heavily in an urban context in 1900.

Condition and Days

UNC - Leaves mint, may have marks already from bulk carrying

AU - A couple of days of rough handling, week in a till.

EF - 2 or 3 weeks rough handling, 2 months in a bank being counted

VF - Maybe 2 months continuous wear, 1 year in nicer situations

Fine - less than a year since minting for constant usage. 10 years at most unless put aside or not used much.

VG - 5 years constant usage, coins wore much slower when they got really worn. Most coins got this bad before recalled or in someones collection 100 years later.

Good - 20 or more years rough usage, never if well handled.

Fair/Poor , at least 80 or more years rough usage.

Just my guesses!
Loving Halfcrowns. British and Commonwealth coins 1750 - 1950 and anything Kiwi.
If it's round, shiny and silvery I will love it.
Pillar of the Community
United Kingdom
8908 Posts
 Posted 04/13/2021  07:08 am  Show Profile   Check NumisRob's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add NumisRob to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
with Princetane. Perhaps I'd say coins remained in VF to F for a bit longer though. I certainly remember from my own experience that the average 1947 cupro-nickel British shilling or florin pulled from circulation in the early 1970s was in much better condition than the average 50% silver 1946 one. However, I think the pre-1920 sterling silver coins wore slightly better.

I remember reading in a coin magazine some years ago that the sixpence was the most heavily-used British coin immediately prior to Decimalization, and that it had an average life of 28 years in circulation.
Edited by NumisRob
04/13/2021 07:08 am
Valued Member
United States
146 Posts
 Posted 04/13/2021  07:34 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add newguy22 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
@Numisma Great point. I guess coins back then are analogous to what paper currency might be today. Paper currency circulates at a fairly rapid rate, and most bills I'm sure are pulled out of circulation after 10 years, depending on the denomination. The same could probably be said of silver coins around the turn of the century then.

@Princetane Thanks for the great analysis! I can't forget that there are more collectors on this forum than just Americans. Fine collection by the way :).

Here are few examples of fairly worn coins from my collection. I wonder how many years it took for these coins to reach their current state?

Probably some of the most worn examples in my collection. @Princetane on the Maria Theresia Thaler, apparently these coins circulated and were made into charms by tribes in Ethiopia. I can't imagine how a coin on a charm like this could become so worn. Given that country has a pretty hot and maybe humid (rainy season), perhaps that could explain why. Maybe the charm was made to sell to tourists on purpose who knows...although I wouldn't want to go there now with all the problems they have at the moment.
Pillar of the Community
Learn More...
3953 Posts
 Posted 04/13/2021  12:06 pm  Show Profile   Check Pacificoin's eBay Listings Bookmark this reply Add Pacificoin to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I started to collect around 1962 when I was 8 years old .
We got both Canadian and US silver in change right up to around early 1969
It disappeared quite rapidly after that .
I had two paper routes , one had a subscription rate of $2.50 a month
the other $1.75 a month . During collection week got bucket loads of
change to look through.
The mix was well worn Edwardian and George V in small quantities,
lots of middle Grade George VI and of course hi grade EIIR Young Head.
With effort it was possible to put together complete date sets of 10 , 25 , 50
Cent silver , with work .
By the time I was 12 , I had acquired a complete 1900 to 1966 fifty cents set ,
except the 1921 ( Rarity!) out of change ! Some scruffy but all dated .
I also got lots of US silver from the 1920 to 1960 s period mostly fairly worn.
Those were fun times !
Valued Member
United States
299 Posts
 Posted 04/13/2021  4:20 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add MisterT to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
As others had mentioned, the modern cupro-nickel clad coins are harder than the older 90% silver coins. Also the old coins actually circulated much more in commerce than modern coins and there were not credit cards back then for everyone to use. That being said, some denominations seem to have suffered more abuse than others. Just look at the Barber halves and quarters, Mercury dimes, and Liberty nickels to name a few. It can be a challenge to acquire high grade examples of some of these coins. I actually compiled a chart of the weight of coins in different stages of wear to assist me in authenticating coins. For example, when Morgan dollars and Walking halves left the press they had a certain weight. By the time both had worn down to G-4 grade, they had lost nearly 1 gram of weight. I do not have any idea of the amount of time it took for them to wear down. There are still bags of dateless slicks commonly available
Pillar of the Community
4188 Posts
 Posted 04/13/2021  5:12 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add oriole to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
@Princetane, this is slightly off-topic, but did New Zealand silver coins still circulate after the conversion to copper-nickel in 1947, or was there a government effort to pull them from circulation?
Bedrock of the Community
United States
17433 Posts
 Posted 04/14/2021  7:46 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Conder101 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I think a good way to make a determination would be to examine "junk" silve Washington quarters. I say quarters because they were the workhorse coins. Now the 1964's were struck through 1965, but most of them were gone from circulation by 1968 or 69. You your typical circulated 1964 quarter will have circulated for less than 4 years. The 1963's were only struck in 1963 so will have 6 years or less circulation. 1962's 7 years and so on. Now coins from the 30's and 40's are often encountered in Good condition so you can fairly well assume that within 30 yeas a silver coin will be worn done to Good, IF it stays in circulation. Also understand that the more dtail that is worn off the longer it will take to wear down to the next grade due to more surface that needs removing. So go examine some bulk silver.
Gary Schmidt
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