How to tell if a coin is silver?

Discussion in 'World Coins' started by charlienorth, Jan 23, 2010.

  1. charlienorth

    charlienorth Junior Member

    When a commemorative coin is issued in both silver and another metal, Krause often lists a weight for the silver coin but not the other.

    Can one assume that the non-silver coin will be lighter? (So if the coin is the weight that is designated, it is silver?)

    Or is a specific gravity test required?

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  3. LostDutchman

    LostDutchman Under Staffed & Overly Motivated Moderator

    To me color is the best indicator. Look at your original post. The coin in your avatar (picture under your name) is definitely a silver coin and the color I would expect to see in a silver coin. The piece you have posted appears to be copper nickel to me. In my case I just use the color of the metal.
  4. charlienorth

    charlienorth Junior Member

    And I thought maybe the posted piece was silver developing a golden toning. :)
  5. LostDutchman

    LostDutchman Under Staffed & Overly Motivated Moderator

    That white color will usually make itself known through just about any toning. Maybe barring the wild dark stuff.
  6. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector Supporter

    If the "non-silver" type is a copper-nickel piece with the same dimensions (diameter and thickness), then yes, the silver coin will be a little heavier.

  7. deadmunny

    deadmunny Member

    This is a good question. I wanted to pose the same question when searching through a pile of foreigns from the dealer's junkbox or at a garage sale, how can you tell if the coin is silver? I figure if its silvery but very light then its aluminum, but other than that how would you distinguish silver from a non-silver alloy? Also some foreign coins are so small.
  8. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector Supporter

    Silver coins usually have a different appearance or color, see the second post here. They often look a little "softer"; if you compare the silver and the clad versions of a Kennedy half dollar (or an Eisenhower dollar), you will probably see the difference right away.

    Unfortunately our eyes are not 100% reliable when it comes to detecting silver. ;) Also, "silver" coins may have 50 percent silver, or 80 or 95 ... while other silverish-looking pieces are silver-plated copper.

    It helps to keep in mind that copper-nickel coins are something relatively recent. While the alloy itself is not new, Cu-Ni was not really used in coins until -- uh, I don't know, 1850-1900 maybe? And even then, it was used for lower or mid-range denominations first, while higher denominations continued to be silver coins until (again very roughly) 40 or 50 years ago.

    Of course a coin catalog such as Krause's SCWC would help, but you may not have that with you when you go to a garage sale. :) With a smartphone you could use their database at instead.

    By the way, seems that the modern British crown-sized pieces (first 25p, now £5) have precisely the same diameter (38.61 mm) and the same weight (28.28 g) in both Cu-Ni and silver. So much for my theory in the previous post ...

  9. charlienorth

    charlienorth Junior Member


    That's what prompted my question. I've several such pieces that came in a lot that I purchased. I'd assumed they where the clad versions but they are the correct dimensions, including weight, for silver. :)
  10. mpcusa

    mpcusa "Official C.T. TROLL SWEEPER" Supporter

    Color, And overall weight, Good indicators;)
  11. hiho

    hiho off to work we go

    The only way to absolutely tell if a coin is silver is to damage it.

    The process involves inflicting the coin in question with a deep scratch, pouring some nitric acid into that scratch and then matching the resulting color with the color chart that came with the silver testing kit.

    From Google...

    "Another approach is to use a silver acid test kit. These kits are readily available (do a search on the phrase "silver acid test" and you will find a number of sources). Silver acid tests make use of nitric acid. The problem with testing, however, is that you have to damage an item to test it.
    The procedure is simple. You make a nick in a hidden spot on the piece of jewelry you wish to test with a file or needle (also available for purchase). Next, place a drop of the acid on the scratch. The color that results will give you an indication of the silver content of the item. Most kits come with a color chart to aid in interpretation. (Different testing solutions yield different color results.)
    The "reading" of the scratch results is a bit subjective. You will learn if the jewelry piece has silver in it, or not. You will also get a general sense of how pure the silver is. However, you don't get a number from these tests; they won't tell you "925/1000 -- it's sterling!"
    One piece if information you can glean from the test, even without the drop of acid, is whether the piece you are testing is plated or not. A slight nick is enough to cut through plating and reveal if that solid sterling jewelry you bought is really sterling through and through.
    Another approach is to take your jewelry to a lab, have it melted down, and then assayed. That, of course, has an obvious drawback! Again, train your eye and then trust your own judgment."

    I suppose you could merely scrape some silver from the edge of the coin onto a test stone, as one does testing gold, and check the color that way. This is why gold and silver coins sometimes come back from NGC as "Edge Filed". They were tested.

    As silver requires nitric acid to test this is not for children!

    I usually employ LostDutchmans eye test after weighing a coin. Solid silver does have a certain look and feel. But if you are serious about testing your silver or gold this company seems to have pretty much everything you could possibly need.

    :loud: Be careful now! :loud:

    Here's another opinion and one worth reading...
  12. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector Supporter

    Right; in my first reply I said that a silver coin is usually a little heavier than its Cu-Ni "equivalent" because that is what I am used to from around here: It's true for the German, Portuguese or Swiss coins that I'm familiar with.

    Because of the coin you depict in your initial post, I then checked whether that also applies to British coins. Well, apparently not, so I added that bit in my second post. :) And as others have suggested - the "eye test" is far from perfect but quite helpful ...

  13. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    Well, not exactly. There is another way, but it requires that you have a known example of a Cu-Ni coin to compare it to.

    Take the two coins,the known Cu-Ni coin and the suspect coin and place them side by side on a table. Cover them with an ordinary tissue.

    If the two coins are identical in color then they are both Cu-Ni. But if one is silver, the silver one will look whiter as seen through the tissue.

    Doesn't sound very scientific but it absolutely works every single time.
  14. charlienorth

    charlienorth Junior Member

    I am that sorry my response was rude.

    Thanks for the confirmation that likely I haven't become suddenly richer from new found silver!
  15. chrisild

    chrisild Coin Collector Supporter

    Did not see anything rude in your posts here. :) Oh, and when it comes to coins that were issued in both Cu-Ni and silver in the very same year, as the one in your initial post, my tip about using Numismaster on a smartphone (when you are at a swap meet or so) will unfortunately not be helpful either.

    That would make sense only with circulation coins which until the year X were silver, and copper-nickel as from X+1. (You could then look a piece up and see that, in the year you are interested in, it was not silver any more.) In your particular case, well, trust your eyes - or maybe Doug's tissue. Have not tried that myself, but it sounds interesting ...

  16. charlienorth

    charlienorth Junior Member

    You need to write a book Doug!

  17. DoK U Mint

    DoK U Mint In Odd we Trust

    Shoddy~Audio Sez:

    You ever use a VOM? Bet you have.
    As Master of Shoddy~Audio please consider the resistance, but better yet

    The Ring Tone.

    No Damage required.:hammer:
  18. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    I've probably written 2 or 3 books worth of responses here on this forum alone. It's all there, go read it :D

    Probably gonna take a couple weeks though ;)

    edit - and I gotta give credit where it's due. That tissue trick is not mine. Conder101 told me about that many years ago.
  19. kangayou

    kangayou Junior Member

    tried the tissue test and still don't know

    I believe I am having the worst luck with eBay buys.
    I got this coin in the mail last week and it does not have any of the toning that was present in the photographs in the listing.
    I researched and this is what they say about the coin:

    department: LA
    object type: C
    weight: 24.891 g
    axis: 6
    Peru,Lima, / 1869 / AE,sol
    dynasty: Peru--Republic
    obverse type: National arms in wreath
    obverse legend: 1869 Y. B.
    reverse type: Liberty seated right, with shield and pole
    reverse legend: FIRME Y FELIZ POR LA UNION UN SOL (in exergue, curved)

    Well , the coin is too heavey for my gunpowder grain scale so I had to weigh it on a dietary scale and this is what I get:

    coin in question weighs .8 oz or between 24 & 25 grams on a dietary scale

    When I used the tissue test from previous recommendations , I used a clad quarter against this allegedly silver Un Sol & only the rim on the Un Sol appeared white but the core area was the same as the US clad quarter.

    Does silver rust ? In the provided photos it looks like reddish areas that I am unable to see with my eyes & they don't look like toning.

    I am about to test the eBay buyers protection service for the very 1st time and it would be nice to have some educated observations & suggestions before I pursue this course of action without destroying the merchandise with the acid test.

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  20. kangayou

    kangayou Junior Member

    and here a couple scans so you can see the relative smoothness of the field ( which makes me think not from 1869 )

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  21. GDJMSP

    GDJMSP Numismatist Moderator

    I don't understand your reasoning regarding the smoothness of the fields - the fields are supposed to be smooth. As to the weight - what you report is correct for the coin in question. And yes, it is supposed to be .900 silver.

    I can see nothing about the coin to make me suspect that it is not genuine. Everything about it "looks" genuine. So what is it that makes you think otherwise ?

    Now about the tissue test - the tissue test only works on coins that are known to have been minted in silver and CuNi. And you need 1 of each to compare - 1 that is known to be CuNi and 1 that you are unsure of (like a modern silver quarter vs a clad quarter). Then the test will work for sure.

    But if you are trying to compare 2 different coins, as you are, then the test may or may not work. And - if the coin in question is toned then of course it is not likely that the test will work.
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