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Pre 1920 and Pre 1947 UK Silver Coins as Scrap or Bullion - Some Historic Perspectives

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Pre 1920 and Pre 1947 UK Silver Coins as Scrap or Bullion - Some Historic Perspectives

I was asked in a thread "Pre 20s UK silver coins":

"I've often wondered about this. How prevalent were pre-47s in the 1950s and 60s?

I know pre-20s were still around, but very few and far between!"

Although I provided and answer there, I thought this may be of interest to many if not most silver stackers on TSF, so I have repeated it here:

I wish I could have given you a quick answer from memory or contemporary notes, but I had to do some research including price look-ups, which are more easily available in US dollars than in pounds sterling, so I would also need to find historic exchange rates, feed them into a spreadsheet, and more.

I think my first awareness of silver prices, and silver content in coins, was about American coins, probably because they were still using 90% silver in coins up to and including the 1964 Kennedy half dollar.

The Silver Institute https://www.silverinstitute.org/silverprice/1960-1965/ has this:

"Once the Treasury stopped selling at that price, market quotes for silver quickly rose. In June 1963 the Treasury replaced the $1 silver certificate with Federal Reserve notes. By 1963, silver prices reached $1.29, the monetary value of silver in coinage. At prices above this level, holders of silver certificates would have been able to redeem them for more valuable silver, under the now-defunct silver certificate legislation. (The other trigger price the Treasury worried about was $1.38, at which level it would have become profitable to recycle coinage for its silver content.)"

I can remember silver certificates selling for a slight premium, and this must have been around 1963/4.

While checking historic silver prices in pounds, using https://www.chards.co.uk/silver-price/silver-price-history, I noticed a price as low as £0.07 in January 1932. Prices from 1792 to 1891, they had been about £0.30 to £0.20 per ounce, with a few peaks at around £0.36; I can only assume that the 1932 low was due to the Great Depression.

Silver would have need to be above about 0.30 per ounce to make pre-1920 coins worth a premium for their silver content, and back then we were not aware of anyone stashing silver coins as a precious metal investment, mot of the market activity was aimed at scrapping it, and refining cost could easily have been as high as about 20%, meaning prices above about 40p would have been needed. This was reached in 1960, but I was never aware of any big volume market.

For pre-1947 coins, spot silver would have needed to be above about 60p, and this was reached in 1966. Again, I was not aware of any volume market until later.

I can see that spot silver was £1.88 per ounce in January 1974, and I can remember having an extremely busy period, or about 6 months during 1974, which entailed 16 hours working days, with perhaps 12 hours on Sunday. At one period, we were shipping up to 1.5 tonnes about 3 times per week, to be scrapped. Some time before that, we did sort through bank bags, and often got about 20% yield of pre-1947, with a few pre-1920 finds.

Before the end of 1947, most tof the pre-1947 coins had all but disappeared form circulation, although some still turned up from bank's old "bullion" stock reserves.

By the time silver hit over £21 in the crazy Bunker Hunt days of 1980, most of the scrap silver we handled came from silver items such as cutlery, trophies, tea sets, etc., rather than coinage.

Some of the dates and values above may be approximate, because it is not quick and easy to find daily prices in sterling for the period.



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9 hours ago, Foster88 said:

@LawrenceChard thanks for sharing your knowledge, I found that a very interesting read.

Did silver really hit £21 (I presume you mean per oz) in 1980?


Do you mean you didn't know?

It would be worth reading the Wikipedia page about him:


Although the section headed "Silver manipulation" is misleading and unfair in my opinion. It was the othr traders and Comex who changed the rules, thereby manipulating the price back down to their advantage, as most of them were about to go bust.

I / we also have a page here with Highest Ever Silver Prices in US Dollars, Sterling and Euros


Perhaps we should have done an "All Time Lows" page.



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9 hours ago, HillWalkerDundee said:

In the Bunker Hunt days I remember the tragedy of watching film footage of melting down fine Georgian silver for mammon.

George III era silver is still pretty common though, even with the sad loss of such artwork. Even now dealers think nothing of melting down bog standard Georgian spoons. To be honest, I'd much rather them clear out some of the Victorian era stuff as this is more than plentiful - but all they see is raw bullion.

I should add though that this is not a new or unusual phenomenon, as all the way from the medieval period through to the Georgian and indeed the Victorian period, huge amounts of silver flatware and other items were melted down when they went out of fashion. There was little or no thought of preserving the past as we know it now.

The English Civil War saw much Tudor and Stuart era items (plate etc.) destroyed as a ready means of bullion. Which is why pre-Charles II era silver plate and flatware is so rare.

What did survive of the later Stuart and early Georgian periods were often modernised (or adulterated) by the regency/Victorian eras. The Victorians were very good at altering things - as they did with honest and original medieval churches, where they 'improved' them by renovating them in gothic style to make them even more medieval - albeit destroying the real medieval stuff in the process.

Edited by SidS
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