American Silver Eagles
In terms of sheer numbers sold, American Silver Eagles are by far the most popular precious metals coins the United States Mint produces. They are the top-selling silver coin around the world.
Authorized by Congress in 1985 by the Liberty Coin Act which became Public Law: 99-61 on July 9, 1985, American Silver Eagles were first minted and sold in 1986. Each weighs 1.000 troy ounces and is struck from .999 fine silver — the highest purity for any silver coin manufactured by the U.S. Mint.
The annually issued Eagles are available in a bullion version which is sold for a small premium above the price of silver. They are intended for investors, although their appeal is widespread. The United States Mint also makes the coins available in proof and uncirculated qualities which are most attractive to coin collectors. The official naming convention used by the Mint to describe each of the three versions is:
- Bullion American Silver Eagle Coins (The 2012-dated coins were made available on January 3, 2012.)
- Proof American Silver Eagle Coins (2012-dated proofs were released on April 12, 2012.)
- Uncirculated American Silver Eagle Coins (2012′s have not been released. The 2011-dated issue was launched on September 15, 2011)
During American Silver Eagle anniversary years — notably the 10th anniversary in 1995, the 20th in 2006 and the 25th in 2011, the United States Mint has also produced unique proof and uncirculated issues which are sold only within anniversary sets and in limited quantities. These coins are described further below.
Visually, the investor bullion Eagle look much like the collector uncirculated Eagle. The major differentiating factor between the two is a mint mark. The uncirculated Eagle will have one on the reverse denoting where it was produced. The bullion Eagle has never had a mint mark. The collector proof versions are readily apparent with their shine and mirror like surfaces. These also include a mint mark. All American Silver Eagles feature identical designs, as described below.
Coin Designs on American Silver Eagles
The obverse or heads side of American Silver Eagles feature a modern interpretation of Adolph A. Weinman’s design that was used on Walking Liberty half dollars between 1916 and 1947. Considered by many as one of the most beautiful coins minted in America, the United States Mint describes the portrayal as:
"An ever hopeful Lady Liberty striding confidently toward the sunrise, draped in the strength of the Stars and Stripes carrying in her arms branches of laurel and oak to symbolize both civil and military glory."
Also shown are the inscriptions "LIBERTY," "IN GOD WE TRUST" and the year. Weinman’s initials are seen on the hem of Lady Liberty’s gown.
United States Mint Sculptor-Engraver John Mercanti designed the reverse (tails side) depicting a Heraldic Eagle with shield. The Eagle has an olive branch in the right talon and arrows in the left. Its beak holds a scroll containing the words "E PLURIBUS UNIM." Surrounding the eagle are the inscriptions "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA," "1 OZ. FINE SILVER" and "ONE DOLLAR." Mercanti’s initials are directly below the arrows.
Availability and Sales of American Silver Eagles
Current year collector proof and uncirculated American Silver Eagles are always sold directly by the United States Mint to the public. As mentioned earlier, non of the 2012-dated Eagles have been released.
The proof 2011-W American Silver Eagle launched on June 30. During its sale, the Eagle went through two price adjustments following volatile movements in silver. It was listed for $58.95 when it sold out on November 22.
Uncirculated 2011-W Eagles were released on September 15 for $60.45. Their price was later adjusted downward to $50.95 and then again to $45.95. The Eagle is still available from the Mint at that price.
The United States Mint does not sell bullion coins directly to the public, but instead to a small group of authorized purchasers who in turn resell them to precious metal providers, investors, dealers and collectors.
Typically, values for American Silver Eagles are determined by mintages, rarity, condition and age. In the case of bullion American Silver Eagles, the current price of silver and availability largely dictate their prices. Specifically, their price points change daily based on silver prices, as do the premiums depending on demand and inventory. When there is plenty of supply, new year issues can often be purchased for about $1.50 over the current silver spot price. Like the collector or numismatic coins, these are often graded by 3rd parties as well, with much higher premiums resulting for top grades.
Since 1986, the United States Mint has sold more than 207 million of the bullion Eagles.
Types of American Silver Eagles
Briefly detailed are the types and key date Eagles through the years.
Bullion American Silver Eagles
As previously mentioned, bullion Silver Eagles do not have a mint mark. From 1986-1988, they were struck at the Mint’s Philadelphia facility. From 1999-2000, they were produced in both Philadelphia and West Point. From 2001-2010, they were produced solely at West Point. Beginning in 2011, they were struck in both West Point and San Francisco.
Proof American Silver Eagles
From 1986-1992, proof American Silver Eagles were minted at the San Francisco facility and included the "S" mint mark. From 1993 through 2000, they were produced in Philadelphia and featured the "P" mint mark. Since 2001, the proof coins have been minted in West Point and bear the "W" mint mark.
1995-W Proof Silver Eagle
An interesting year for the Silver American Eagles was 1995. That was the year the United States Mint released the first special limited edition set celebrating the Eagle’s 10th anniversary.
In this case, it was a 1995-W Proof Silver Eagle and it was only available through a special 5-coin proof anniversary set that honored American Eagle coinage. (The United States Mint also struck a 1995-P Proof Silver Eagle, but it was sold individually and had a much higher mintage.)
The other coins in the anniversary set included the one-ounce, half-ounce, quarter-ounce and tenth-ounce American Eagle Gold coins. The set’s price was $999 and it had a very limited run of 30,125. The price tag was steep for Silver Eagle collectors, and many took the gamble and waited for the coins to get broken out and appear separately in the secondary market. Given the limited mintage and high demand, the 1995-W soon sold by itself for over a thousand dollars. The price continues to escalate.
Uncirculated / Burnished Eagles / 2006 Reverse Proof Silver Eagle
The United States Mint began to directly offer a new type of Eagle to coin collectors in 2006. Many refer to these coins as the "W Uncirculated " or the "Burnished" Silver Eagle.
In the same year as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of the American Silver Eagle coins, the Mint also released a 2006 Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle from the Philadelphia Mint. However, this coin could only be purchased through a limited mintage (250,000) anniversary 3-coin set, which also included the standard proof coin and the new "W" burnished coin. The 20th anniversary set was priced at $100.
While the reverse proof was only offered in 2006, the "W" burnished uncirculated coins continued as a new annual offering.
2011 25th Anniversary American Silver Eagle Sets
In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the American Eagle coin program, the United States Mint in 2011 sold an anniversary set that included five of the coins for $299.95. Limited to 100,000, all of the sets sold out in about four and one-half hours. Driving collectors to the 25th anniversary set were the two coins unique to it — a 2011-P Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle (similar to the one struck in the 20th anniversary set) and a 2011-S Uncirculated American Silver Eagle.
The other coins included were the standard three annual issues that were available individually — a bullion coin from San Francisco, and a proof and uncirculated issue each from West Point.
Following the sell-out, sets were being sold in the secondary market for 2-3 times the Mint’s original price.