In colonial America, silversmiths decided to forge their own silverware and goods to avoid patronizing British purveyors of sterling silver. They collected useless European coins, mainly Spanish reales and melted them down. Because coins were an alloy of metals, their silver content was lower than that of sterling, only 90 percent. America did not adopt the Sterling standard until 1870. Coin silver was made in the United States from the earliest colonial times until just after the Civil War. There were some coin silver manufacturers who continued to produce after the Civil War, but most silversmiths changed to the use of the much more popular sterling silver.
The most famous firms for coin silver production were in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
Because of the expense involved, sterling flatware of the period is often thin. However, since coin silver was more readily available and much less expensive, the pieces often have great weight and are impressive in design. The items most commonly available to the collector today are teaspoons and tablespoons.
The maker's mark on coin silver usually included the first initial and last name of the silversmith, as well as the city and state of manufacture. There are also many different retail marks that might be included in the stamp as well.
In 1859, silver mines were discovered in Nevada and coin silver dropped out of favor. It was no longer cost prohibitive to acquire sterling silver.