Author Topic: How and when were the last silver coins withdrawn from circulation?  (Read 6782 times)

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Offline <k>

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When I was a child in the 1960s, the pennies and ha'pennies in circulation went back to Victoria's time. The threepences were brass and so only showed QEII or GVI. However, I do remember seeing George V and Edward VII on many of the silver coins, i.e. the shillings and florins. I can't remember the sixpences and half crowns so well.

When Britain went decimal, the sixpences were retained in circulation until the end of 1979, and the shillings and florins until the early 1990s. My interest in coins was revived by reading about the demise of the sixpence in 1979. Checking my change, I found that none of the pre-decimal coins in circulation had a date prior to 1947, that is, the coins containing silver had been removed from circulation. My question is, who removed the silver coins, and when? Was it the banks and the Royal Mint, or did collectors gradually remove them? To my astonishment, I received a 1929 shilling in change in 1990, in the week before it was demonetised, but that was an anomaly.

I was surprised to learn in recent years that the Royal Mint was now removing pre-2012 copper-nickel 5 and 10 pence coins from circulation:

http://www.royalmint.com/discover/uk-coins/cupro-nickel-replacement
« Last Edit: April 03, 2015, 11:32:09 PM by Figleaf »
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Offline Prosit

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2015, 10:02:51 PM »
In 1964 I was 9 years old and yes I was a coin collector. Sort of. I couldn’t seem to keep coins in my Whitman Folders for long as candy, cola and comic book desires often triumphed over my desire to collect those pretty “Mercury” dimes and of course I had no real income. Collecting for me meant sacrifice but I tried.

Prior to 1964 there were Silver dimes, quarters, halfs and dollar coins that could be found in any cashier’s coin drawers. In 1964 those coins were 90% Silver. Between 1960 and 1964 Silver rose from under a dollar per ounce to around $1.29 per ounce on the free market. The public and collectors but mostly the general populace began to hoard them for a hoped for profit. The Kennedy Half was minted and Kennedy being so admired and tragically assassinated resulted in them being removed from circulation as fast as they were made. They made 273.3 million of them.

The coinage act of 1965 removed Silver from dimes and quarters and reduced the half-dollar to 0.400 Silver. Those 0.400 Silver halves were minted till 1970. The 1970 issued was available in mint sets only. After 1970 the Silver was removed from even the halves.

Most will say the US quit Silver coins in 1964. A few will modify that and say 1970 was the last circulation coins.

“How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?”  I still find one occasionally so it hasn’t happened yet.  >:D  Last one was a Silver Quarter.

So the answer depends on precisely how the question is phrased.

But 1969 was the last year the US Mint minted a coin (Half Dollar) with Silver in it that was intended to circulate. In 1969 I was 14 and had other things on my mine  ;D

Dale
« Last Edit: February 21, 2015, 10:57:00 PM by Prosit »

Offline Figleaf

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2015, 10:26:24 PM »
Small (up to half guilder) Dutch silver was removed from circulation first by recall and criminalisation early in the second world war, next by a large increase in the money supply during the nazi occupation, that made money worthless, lastly by the appearance of cu-ni equivalents from 1950. Smallish amounts re-surfaced when the government (post offices) accepted them at face again for a short time, but by that time they could no longer be used in circulation. When large Dutch low-grade silver coins were succeeded by smaller cu-ni equivalents, the silver coins disappeared very quickly as everyone wanted to get rich quickly by hanging on to them. I don't remember the percentage handed in, but I believe it was significantly less than the usual 50%.

Gold coins had gone the way of the Dodo much earlier, though they were still in demand for jewellery and hoarding purposes. They had their last hurrah in the winter of 1944, when there was a lethal famine and some farmers wanted to be paid in gold for food. Demand for gold coins remained strong in what is now Indonesia, but gold coins no longer circulated.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline FosseWay

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2015, 10:33:01 PM »
As <k> demonstrates with his 1929 shilling acquired in 1990, the only definitive date that can be given is the date at which the coins stopped being legal tender, namely the end of 1979 for sixpences, 1990 for shillings and 1992 for florins. I too found the occasional silver shilling and florin in circulation in the 1980s.

As far as the majority of silver coins is concerned, though, I suspect there was a concerted effort by the banks to remove them in the first months of 1947 (or as soon as there were enough Cu-Ni replacements to satisfy demand). It wasn't just that the government wanted to save money on the future production of coins by changing metal; they wanted to make use of the existing silver as well, to pay foreign debt for example.

I have also had the occasional silver dime, and one solitary silver quarter, in change in the US. Since over the course of my life I have probably spent less than 2 months in total in the US, compared to more like 18 years in the UK up to 1992, and I have picked up more circulation silver in the US than the UK, I surmise that there are more silver coins in use in the US than there were in the UK before the 5p/10p were resized.

I also remember getting a 5 Reichsmark from 1936 (the variant with swastika) in change in West Germany in 1990. When I showed it to the family I was staying with, they surmised that it had been brought from the DDR, when loads of East Germans flooded over to the Federal Republic bringing with them whatever might conceivably pass for money. This was in the brief period between the fall of the Wall and Reunification, when the DM had yet to be adopted as the official currency in the DDR. Either way, the coin clearly hadn't been in serious use constantly since 1936, as I reckon it is on the better side of VF.

Offline EWC

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2015, 11:00:41 PM »
Was it the banks and the Royal Mint, or did collectors gradually remove them?

Government was caught on the back foot and failed to pull out pre-20 and pre-47 coins before the bullion price went above face.  Once that happened there was nothing much gvt could do.  An industry grew up buying the stuff and I assume that most of it was shipped to the continent (Holland I recall from news reports) to melt.  Certainly clerks at the clearing banks were pulling it out to sell on their own behalf, rather then to pass to the government, so there was nothing much could be done by officialdom.  I believe the export arm of the business was illegal, but I do not recall prosecutions being brought.

I seem to recall being told stuff with silver content in the US was shipped to Canada in similar operations?


Offline chrisild

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2015, 11:02:54 PM »
This was in the brief period between the fall of the Wall and Reunification, when the DM had yet to be adopted as the official currency in the DDR.

Keep in mind that anything may be used as means of payment - candy, jewelry, etc. :)  So why not some old silver from the Deutsches Reich, be it with the eagle of the monarchy or the swastika ... By the way, that period was even shorter - the fall of the German-German border was on 9 Nov 1989, the GDR introduced the DM on 1 Jul 1990.

Christian

Offline <k>

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2015, 12:19:46 AM »
Thank you all for your input. I had specifically referred to UK predecimal coinage, but it seems my question had a wider currency, and it has brought forth some interesting observations. Given its wider scope, I shall now move the topic to the Numismatics board. Other topics concerning metals have been posted in the "Coin and medal production technology" board, but this is about withdrawal, rather than production.
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Offline chrisild

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2015, 12:36:23 AM »
In Germany (Fed. Rep.) the "removal date" was 1 August 1975. That was when the regular 5 DM circulation coins ceased to be legal tender. The funny thing is, after that day you could still get newly issued silver (collector) coins at face value, until 2011 - but because they now were different from the normal coins, they became less and less relevant.

In Austria the 5 and 10 schilling silver coins could be used until the end of Sep 1969 (5 S) and March 1975 (10 S). In Switzerland the "deadline" was 1 October 1971.

Christian

Offline <k>

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2015, 01:54:51 AM »
In Germany (Fed. Rep.) the "removal date" was 1 August 1975. That was when the regular 5 DM circulation coins ceased to be legal tender.

Christian

But they were followed by a copper-nickel replacement. I worked in West Berlin during 1979/80, and they were common, but just occasionally I would be given a 5 Mark note in change. When did those notes cease to be legal tender?
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Offline FosseWay

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2015, 10:00:14 AM »
I'm guessing the 5 DM notes were valid until the introduction of the euro but may be wrong. I certainly received one in change in the mid-1990s.

Offline chrisild

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2015, 11:43:50 AM »
Not that this has anything to do with when the silver coins were taken out of circulation ;) but yes, the copper-nickel and "paper" fivers circulated until late 2001/early 2002. The 5 DM notes were much less popular than the corresponding coins, Ag or Cu-Ni (about 95 percent of the "fiver" volume was coins, 5 percent paper). That denomination was initially, in the mid-80s, not supposed to be part of the new paper money series. But for various reasons, one of them being gender neutrality, it was then included.

Christian

Offline Figleaf

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #11 on: February 22, 2015, 12:16:14 PM »
French silver disappeared from circulation during the first world war, owing to unrecognised high inflation, that made it profitable to melt them. A low grade silver 20 francs piece circulated a few years before the second world war, disappearing with the outbreak of war. There was a short issue of a good silver 5 francs in the 1960s. When the price of silver rose, owing to speculative demand during a recession in the US, the issue was discontinued and the coins were withdrawn or hoarded by the "get rich quickly" crowd.

Peter
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Offline bgriff99

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #12 on: February 24, 2015, 08:40:07 AM »
One thing to point out about the sudden and rather unanticipated removal of silver in the US is that the value of those hoarded coins crept up only very slowly.   Frustratingly slowly.    In 1972 you could still buy circulated but quite collectible grade Franklins and walking Liberty halves, from dealers, for 65 cents each.   It was only the Hunt brothers trying to corner the world silver market that made them exchangeable for 20 or 25 times face for a period of a couple months.   That was in the early winter of 1979-80.

The last time I found a silver coin was change from the coffee machine literally as I was walking out the door for the last time from work, upon retiring in 2008.   A 1944 quarter.   Plus a birth year (1952) nickel, so those are in my pocket right now.   

Offline EWC

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #13 on: February 24, 2015, 11:18:02 AM »
I recall reading a paper suggesting that although the Labour Party won the 1945 UK election, Keynsians did not get control of the treasury until 1947.  Seems to suggest it might be connected to the removal of all silver from UK issues in that year.

In the early 1980's I walked into the Bank of England and asked at the front desk if anyone could answer my question - why was England not issuing 100 notes when Scotland and N. Ireland were.  The exhibition curator/historian came down to meet me in the lobby.  An amusing exchange.  As I recall he suggested that if the Chancellor authorised the issue of 100 notes, the press would seize on it to run anti gvt stories concerning the rate of inflation.  I suggested rather that Tax was leaning on the Bank to push people towards cheque use.  As I recall, he did not reply - but rather showed amusement.

The Economist ran a story about the same time on 100 notes in the US - that the IRS was leaning on the FRB to stop the printing them, or some such.

On the politics of denomination selection - I also seem to recall there is a very rare Canadian gold issue.  Rare possibly because the right wing government who commissioned it lost an election?  But I never studied that matter closely, so would welcome more details.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: How and when were the last silver coins removed from circulation?
« Reply #14 on: February 25, 2015, 05:18:29 PM »
Looking over the stories above and thinking of other countries also, a story of inertia emerges.

Silver was useless in post 1816 UK coins. As long as silver coins were redeemable in gold and gold minting and melting was not restricted, minor coins could have been made in any material and the coinage would have been better than at any time in the country's history. Optimal materials would be easy to shape, but hard to deform slow to wear and as cheap as possible. Nevertheless, silver coins, expensive, soft and fast to wear, were maintained. One element of the reason was likely public resistance. That would consist of a growing middle class that didn't understand token coins and a social upper crust that resisted change. The middle class could have been educated if the upper class would have allowed it, but there may have been another factor.

After the Napoleonic wars and under the influence of the Law's bank scandal, France clung to its Franc de Germinal*. This coin provided the basis for a bi-metallic currency union, the Latin Monetary Union. In the earlier years of the LMU, the 5 francs pieces were "full value" and could be freely melted and minted, with drastic consequences for coin collectors. The LMU slowly deteriorated and finally fell apart just before the first world war, which is when we see the first countries that did not issue any silver coins.

From that time on, silver coins are nothing but a primitive relic of earlier times. They were issued as a sop to traditionalists when the country could afford it, withdrawn when it couldn't. Their place was gradually taken by coins in white metal, often Cu-Ni. In other words, it took 150 years to educate people on the role of coin metals. Amazing.

Peter


* Ironically, a case can be made that the Franc de Germinal was a major cause of France's defeat
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.