Surprisingly, just two half dollars of the modern commemorative era are composed of 90 percent silver: the first was the 1982 silver half dollar honoring the 250th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. The next silver commemorative half dollar was the 1993 Bill of Rights coin. All others have been made of copper-nickel clad.
The production of the silver Washington half dollar was a triumphant return for the U.S. Mint’s commemorative coin program, which had started off strong in 1892 with silver half dollars dated 1892 and 1893 celebrating the World’s Columbian Exposition. After six decades, the program ended on a somewhat lackluster note in 1954 with the final Booker T. Washington-George Washington Carver half dollar, a coin first introduced in 1946.
Today, all three of these 90 percent silver half dollar types – the 1982 George Washington half dollar, an example of the Booker T. Washington-George Washington Carver half dollar, and the 1892 and 1893 Columbian Exposition half dollars – are available for around their bullion prices.
For the 1982 George Washington half dollar, one can find a handsome Mint State 1982-D coin or a Proof 1982-S half dollar, but for the Columbian Exposition and Booker T. Washington half dollars, examples trading near bullion values are likely to be well-circulated or have problems like polishing or improper cleaning.
A 90 percent silver half dollar – including the three commemoratives discussed – has .3617 ounce of silver. With silver at $20 an ounce, one can find examples of each of these coins easily for less than $10, providing an interesting, historical and collectible way to own silver.