Silver or Clad? How to Tell at a Glance

When you’re new to the hobby of metal detecting, digging lots of trash & modern, clad coins can become very frustrating very fast. I first got into the hobby of metal detecting because I enjoy coin collecting & I figured – hey what better way to add to my collection than to dig coins right out of the ground!

Most people new to this great hobby start out with entry-level machines that are built for coin & jewelry hunting. But even the most advanced detectorists that are using machines like the CTX 3030 & E-trac enjoy coin hunting in the obvious locations like old parks & schoolyards.

But who wants to dig modern, clad coins? I think I speak for a lot of coin hunters when I say that we really only care about silver & old copper coins (oh yea, gold coins too!). The first thing any hunter does when they dig a coin is to rub off the dirt & check the date. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when I see that my find is a 1992 memorial penny!

But when I rub off that dirt & find that it’s a pre-1965 Washington quarter or Roosevelt dime, I break out into a series of fist pumps & cart wheels.

Then there are those finds like a crusty ole Roosevelt dime where you really can’t make out the date at first glance. Try as you might to clean it up in the field, you just can’t make out the date. Is it pre 1965 & thus silver? (U.S dimes & quarters minted pre-1965 are an alloy of 90% silver & 10% copper – 1965 & above are referred to as clad & an alloy of 75% copper & 25% nickel).

Even when you arrive home after a suspenseful car ride to clean up your finds – often times you still cannot make out the date. So here’s a tip for all the newbies out there & even for those experienced hunters that don’t typically dig a lot of silver: a silver coin will more often than not be very shiny & stick out in the hole like a sore thumb.

And by shiny I don’t mean lustrous like any ole modern coin in your pocket change. You’ll also notice a much smoother texture from the silver that you just don’t get with clad.

When you see such a shiny coin in the dug hole or plug, you can bet that it’s going to be a silver. Here is an example of a silver 1947 Roosevelt dime dug 10 yards away from a 1975 clad Roosevelt dime on the same hunt:

1947 silver dime

If you weren’t able to see the dates, one would probably assume that the dime on the left is the older dime here. Well the dime pictured on the right is actually 28 years older than the crusty one to the left.

Silver coins can certainly come out of the ground badly tarnished & very dark or black due to different ground minerals & levels of oxidation -but more often than not, they’ll be a shiny beauty.

But I think we can all agree that no matter how shiny or clean our finds are, we’ll continue to feverishly rub off that dirt to get a glimpse of those 4 crucial numbers.