The year 1965 marked what may be one of the most iconic and historic changes in American currency. This was the year that the U.S. Mint stopped minting its quarters, (and dimes, half dollars, and dollars for that matter) in ninety percent silver. This was the year that this all changed, that coins no longer clinked in our pockets as silver did, and that coins no longer held quite the same awe and luster.
At the time, the change over from silver coinage of the U.S. quarters to nickel and copper was an anticipated one, as the U.S. Mint had been discussing it for some time. Also at the time, silver was not worth anywhere near what it is now, so the change was not as protested as some might think it was. For an idea of what silver was worth back in 1965, take a look at this site. Now, that price of course has to be adjusted for inflation, but even when that is done the price in 1965 is not nearly as high as it is now.
In the 1960s, a 1964 quarter was just a 1964 quarter, nothing particularly special. Now however a 1964 quarter is something quite interesting and special to both coin collectors and silver enthusiasts alike. So to us now, that changeover really meant something. Back then, we kind of took it all in stride as one of those, “Well that’s the U.S. Mint for you,” kind of things.
Some History on Why The U.S. Mint Changed the Quarter in 1965
Here’s how the story goes. The now common and now accepted copper-nickel clad Washington Quarter was for the very first time issued in the year of 1965 and as part of the switch from one metal content to another. What happened here was that, during the late 1950s and the early 1960s, the Federal government of the United States had been flooding the market with silver to keep the price of the metal down. Why did they do this? In doing so they wanted to keep U.S. coins’ intrinsic values from passing their face values. In the layman’s terms, they didn’t want the value of the metal in the coin to surpass the monetary value of the coin itself.
Something happened though that hadn’t necessarily been taken into account. By mass producing these coins and flooding the market with them, the overall level and supply of silver in the U.S. Reserves began to dip into low levels that the U.S. Government was not at all comfortable with.
Just how low were those levels? Dangerously low according to this full report on the subject. Silver was in fact estimated to only last another scant three, four, maybe five years at the rate the Mint was manufacturing the coins! This sort of crept up on the Mint, and fast action had to be taken to do something about it.
The solution was a simple one, and though a lot of people had been preparing for it, no one knew the silver reserves would run so low so quickly. To address the situation the U.S. Congress authorized the Mint to research, present, and produce alternative materials for the silver denominations of dimes, quarter dollars, half dollars, and dollars.
The Mint got to work right away and began coming up with different ideas and different combinations of metal contents that would essentially give the coins an entirely different look but which would be made for metals that, coin to coin, were not as valuable as the monetary value of the coins themselves. The result? After much research the final decision and the material chosen was a 75% copper/ 25% nickel cupronickel alloy (identical to that in the five-cent coin actually hence the name nickel) clad to a core of almost pure copper.
This was the end of an era for not only the quarter but for other coins too, and this change marked a significant leap into the future for coins of the time. Now, we are used to our coins the way they are, but they certainly haven’t always been that way.