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1873 melt wiped out 3-cent supply

Why are the silver 3-cent pieces from the latter part of the production so rare?

According to Harry X Boosel, in 1873 the U.S. Mint ordered the melting of any old standard coins then on hand. The branch mints began melting them down in April, including unsold proofs and business strikes. The main mint at Philadelphia began its melts in July of that year. Included in the melt there were virtually all of the silver 3-cent pieces struck from 1863 through 1872. In the other silver denominations this decimated the supply of 1872 and 1873 issues without the arrows at the date.

Please settle an argument. Can I spend a proof coin?

Why not? It’s designated as legal tender, the same as any other U.S. coin, so if you are willing to take the loss in value there is no other prohibition or reason not to spend a proof coin.

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Somewhere I read that tons of silver coins were melted down during World War II and the silver was used in defense plants. What possible use would they have had for coin silver?

The U.S. Treasury loaned 16,300 tons of silver in 1942 to the Defense Plant Corporation. The silver was used to alleviate a critical shortage of copper, needed for war materials. In many cases it was cast into heavy bars known as “bus bars,” used to connect heavy electrical equipment. More of the silver was used to make wire, which was used in the windings of electrical motors. Silver was ideal for the purpose, as there was little need for it as a war material, and it was nearly as good a conductor of electricity as the copper it replaced. Nearly all of the silver was returned to the Treasury after the war.

How detailed are Mint records of gold coins melted?

Since 1914 they are detailed, but prior to that only the bulk totals of all gold coins were recorded.
Unfortunately, prior to 1914 the Mint melted by weight rather than by denomination, so records prior to that year show only the total amounts melted, without giving a breakdown of the individual denominations. It doesn’t help even for coins minted after that, because the denomination breakdowns still included older coins. From a numismatic standpoint, it would have been ideal if they had kept a record of each date and mint melted, but they didn’t, so we have to make do with a lot of estimating.

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Are the gold and silver Eagles legal tender coins?

Technically, yes, although one would be foolish to redeem them for face value. As might be expected, however, the public views them as money and there are a number of reported instances of the coins – especially the silver Eagles – actually being used for purchases.

With all the melts, just how many silver dollars are still in circulation?

While technically in circulation, just about all are now in the hands of hoarders, dealers or collectors. The last figure I can find indicated that the Treasury considered that about 480 million of the 90 percent silver dollars still were out there somewhere. Obviously at least a small percentage of that figure has to fall into the “lost, strayed or stolen” or melted class, so a good guess might be that about 350 million are still in existence.

In all the stories about the quantities of silver dollars melted for shipment to India in 1918, there is nothing said about how all that valuable metal was transported.

The silver was melted into $1,000 bars weighing about 62 pounds. Five-thousand to 10,000 of these bars at a time were loaded into special trains, consisting of five express cars for the trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco. A total of 18 of the special trains were involved in the transfer. The bars were loaded onto ships at San Francisco for the trip to India.


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