1971 Silver Dollar Value: The Ultimate Guide for Collectors

As a collector of modern U.S. coins, the 1971 silver dollar holds a special place in my collection. Also known as the 1971 Eisenhower dollar, this large and impressive coin was the first year of issue for the series and represents the last silver dollar struck for circulation. With its unique 40% silver composition, striking designs, and historical significance, the 1971 silver dollar is a must-have for any serious collector.

In this in-depth guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know about the value of 1971 silver dollars, from their specs and mintages to grading, pricing, and how to cherry pick high-quality examples for your collection. I‘ve been collecting Eisenhower dollars for over 20 years and will share my expertise and market analysis to help you make informed collecting decisions. Whether you‘re just starting out or are an experienced collector, this article will provide valuable insights on the 1971 silver dollar.

History and Background of the 1971 Eisenhower Dollar

To fully appreciate the 1971 silver dollar, it‘s important to understand its historical context and how it fits into the larger story of U.S. coinage. The Eisenhower dollar series was authorized by Congress in 1970 to honor the late President and World War II General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had passed away in 1969. The obverse features a portrait of Eisenhower facing left, while the reverse depicts a stylized eagle landing on the Moon, inspired by the Apollo 11 mission insignia.

The Eisenhower dollar was also intended to replace the silver dollars that had disappeared from circulation in the 1960s due to rising silver prices. However, there was still strong political pressure from Western mining interests to include silver in the new dollar coin. As a compromise, the 1971 Eisenhower dollars were struck in a unique 40% silver composition, with 60% copper in the inner core and an outer cladding of 80% silver.

This would mark the last time that circulating U.S. dollar coins contained any precious metal. Starting in 1972, the Eisenhower dollar switched to the same copper-nickel clad composition as the other denominations. Thus, the 1971 silver dollars represent a brief return of the silver dollar and a key first-year issue for the series.

Noted numismatic author Q. David Bowers ranks the 1971-S Eisenhower silver dollar as 15th in the fourth edition of his book The 100 Greatest Modern U.S. Coins, citing its significance as the last U.S. silver dollar made for commerce. The coin also has an impressive size and heft, weighing in at 24.59 grams and measuring 38.1 mm in diameter. It remains popular with both collectors and bullion investors.

1971 Silver Dollar Mintages and Specifications

The 1971 silver dollars were struck at the San Francisco Mint in both uncirculated and proof finishes, with the "S" mintmark on the obverse. No silver Eisenhower dollars were made in 1971 at the Philadelphia or Denver Mints. Here are the key specs and mintages for the two varieties:

Variety Composition Weight Diameter Mintage
1971-S Uncirculated 40% Ag, 60% Cu 24.59 g 38.1 mm 2,600,000
1971-S Proof 40% Ag, 60% Cu 24.59 g 38.1 mm 4,265,234

As you can see, neither issue is particularly rare with over 2.5 million uncirculated coins and 4.2 million proofs minted. Compare that to the total mintage of over 465 million Eisenhower dollars struck from 1971-1978 and the 1971 silver issues seem downright scarce. Still, enough were produced to keep prices relatively affordable for most collectors.

Distinguishing the 40% silver 1971-S Eisenhower dollars from the copper-nickel clad issues of the same year is easy due to the visible edges. The silver dollars have a solid gray edge, while the clad coins show a distinctive copper stripe between two nickel layers. The 1971 silver dollars also weigh a bit more at 24.59 grams versus 22.68 grams for the clad issues.

Grading 1971 Silver Dollars

Grading is an essential part of determining the value and collectibility of any coin. For 1971 silver dollars, you‘ll want to pay close attention to the amount and location of wear, the quality of strike and luster, any notable toning or coloration, and the presence of marks or imperfections. Here‘s a quick rundown of what to look for in each grade range:

Gem Uncirculated (MS/PR-65 and above):

  • Fully struck design elements, especially on Eisenhower‘s hair, face, and the eagle‘s feathers
  • Cartwheel luster on both sides that is unbroken and undisturbed, even under a light
  • No more than a couple small contact marks or flaws, none in prime focal areas
  • Original skin and color, ranging from brilliant white to light golden or champagne toning

Choice Uncirculated/Proof (MS/PR-63 to 64):

  • Boldly struck devices and lettering, slightly soft on highest points
  • Mostly complete luster with minor breaks or scuffs in fields
  • Several light marks or hairlines scattered about, though none too severe or distracting
  • Pleasing original color, sometimes with flecks or splotches of darker toning

About Uncirculated (AU-50 to 58):

  • Moderate wear on high points of design, like Eisenhower‘s cheek and hair
  • Luster mainly absent from worn areas, still present around devices and lettering
  • Numerous marks and abrasions from light circulation, rim nicks, slide marks
  • May show spotting, haziness, or unattractive toning from aging and improper storage

Certified grading by reputable third-party services like PCGS and NGC is recommended for high value coins and peace of mind. They will authenticate, grade and encapsulate your coin in a labeled, tamper-proof holder. However, raw coins are perfectly suitable for average circulated grades or if you know how to properly evaluate them yourself.

Based on recent population reports from PCGS and NGC, here are the approximate numbers of 1971 silver dollars graded in each category:

Grade PCGS Population NGC Population
MS/PR-69 2 34
MS/PR-68 202 501
MS/PR-67 739 713
MS/PR-66 1,910 2,216
MS/PR-65 4,100 5,690

This data reveals just how tough it is to find superb gem and finer examples of the 1971 silver dollars. Only a few thousand coins have been graded MS/PR-67+ by the top two services combined, representing less than 0.1% of the original mintage. While the 1971-S dollars are not rare in an absolute sense, pristine pieces with flawless surfaces and eye appeal are the condition rarities for the issue.

Pricing and Value of 1971 Silver Dollars

Now that we‘ve covered the key factors affecting the desirability of 1971 silver dollars, let‘s dive into their current market value. Pricing for these coins is driven by their silver content, grade, and overall eye appeal. As mentioned earlier, each coin contains about 0.3161 troy ounces of pure silver, giving them a bullion value of around $6-$7 based on recent spot prices.

Of course, the numismatic value of 1971 silver dollars is much higher than their melt value. According to the latest edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins (or the "Red Book" as it‘s known to collectors), here are the retail prices for various grades:

Grade 1971-S Uncirculated 1971-S Proof
MS/PR-63 $15 $12
MS/PR-64 $20 $13
MS/PR-65 $26 $15
MS/PR-66 $60 $20
MS/PR-67 $350 $35

Keep in mind that these prices are for raw, ungraded coins. Pieces encapsulated by PCGS or NGC in high grades can sell for even more. For example, a PCGS MS-67 1971-S Eisenhower dollar sold for $1,116 at a Heritage Auction in April 2019. Similarly, an NGC PF-69 Ultra Cameo specimen realized $1,560 in January 2021.

On the other end of the spectrum, 1971 silver dollars in circulated condition trade for only a small premium over their bullion value. A moderately worn AU coin may fetch around $10-$12, while a heavily worn or damaged piece is worth its silver content of $6-$7.

The key to getting the most value for your money is to buy certified coins from reputable dealers or bid on pieces from major auction houses. Make sure to inspect high-resolution photos, source market pricing data, and read details to evaluate the coin‘s overall quality. Be patient and wait for an example that meets your grading standards and budget.

Tips for Collecting 1971 Silver Dollars

If you‘re ready to start building a set of 1971 silver dollars, here are some strategies to consider:

  • Focus on uncirculated and proof specimens in MS/PR-65 and above. The large open fields and designs of Eisenhower dollars tend to show imperfections easily, so high-grade examples have superior eye appeal.

  • Look for coins with original, untoned surfaces in shades of white, silver, and light gold/champagne. Rainbow toning can be attractive but avoid splotchy, dark or artificial colors.

  • Purchase certified coins when possible for an objective assessment of grade. If you‘re buying raw, learn the strike characteristics, luster, and typical marks to accurately judge condition.

  • Consider collecting Eisenhower dollars from 1971-1978 as a short set. The 1971 silver issues are a great anchor to build around and work up to the scarcer 1972 Type 2 and 1976 bicentennial varieties.

  • Store your silver dollars properly to preserve their beauty and value. Use non-PVC flips or holders and keep them in a cool, dry place away from light and humidity. Never clean your coins as it will permanently damage the surfaces.

  • Study price guides, auction archives and population reports to stay up-to-date on the market. The value of these modern issues is always changing based on collector demand and silver prices.

With these tips in mind, you‘re well on your way to assembling a top-notch collection of 1971 silver Eisenhower dollars!

The Future of 1971 Silver Dollar Values

As with any collectible, the future value of 1971 silver dollars is difficult to predict with certainty. However, there are several factors that bode well for their long-term prospects.

First, the overall popularity and nostalgia for Eisenhower dollars remains strong, especially among collectors who grew up with them in circulation. As more baby boomers and Generation Xers enter the hobby and build registry sets, demand for high-grade examples should remain stable or increase.

Second, the unique 40% silver composition of the 1971-S issues makes them attractive to both numismatists and precious metal investors. If silver prices continue to rise over time, the melt value of these coins will provide a floor for their numismatic value.

Finally, the relatively low populations of 1971 silver dollars in MS/PR-67 and above create an enticing target for registry set collectors and condition rarity specialists. With so few coins capable of achieving the top grades, competition for the finest specimens should keep prices strong.

On the flip side, the large mintages of over 6.8 million coins may limit the appreciation of lower-grade examples. Unless silver prices skyrocket, circulated and even lower-mint state pieces may not see significant gains in value.

Ultimately, the best reason to collect 1971 silver dollars is for the joy of owning a piece of American history and numismatic artistry. While they may not be the rarest or most valuable U.S. coins, they offer an accessible and rewarding challenge for any collector. By carefully selecting high-quality pieces and preserving them for future generations, you can ensure that these magnificent silver dollars remain cherished and valuable for years to come.

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