1986 served as the inaugural year for the new American Silver Eagles series which have been struck annually ever since.
They were only authorized the year before as part of the Liberty Coin Act of 1985, approved by Congress in June of that year and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on July 9, 1985.
Congress created the authorizing legislation in response to political pressure to decrease the national strategic stockpile of the precious metal silver held by the United States. Many felt that the sale of the federally-owned silver could help lower the national deficit.
That move, however, met with some resistance. Congressional delegates from silver-mining states were concerned that an influx of silver into the market would further depress its conditions.
To alleviate some of those concerns, Senator James A. McClure from Idaho had a proposal. Instead of selling the silver on the open market, the U.S. Mint would be required to strike and distribute silver-bearing coin produced from the silver stockpile. McClure’s idea gained ground and was eventually approved as the Liberty Coin Act.
Design details included in the Act were not too specific. It required the obverse (heads side) to contain a design "symbolic of Liberty" while the reverse (tails side) was to show an eagle. Thus, the US Mint returned to a highly popular design by Adolph A. Weinman used first on the 1916 Walking Liberty Half Dollar for the obverse. The reverse featured a new heraldic eagle design by John M. Mercanti.
Allowing for lead-time required by the U.S. Mint to produce the new coinage, the first American Silver Eagles were only made available to the public in the last few months of 1986. Despite the short window of availability, 5,393,005 of the bullion coins were sold for a small premium above the average spot price of the one ounce of silver contained within them. For reference, silver average $5.47 an ounce for the year 1986.
Even more impressive were the sales of the Proof Silver Eagles struck solely for collectors which tallied up 1,446,778 at an initial sale price of $21. The 1986 Proof Silver Eagles sold stand to this day as the record with the next closest year (2006) only attaining 1,092,477.
1986 Silver Eagle Mintages
1986 Silver Eagle Specifications
|Weight:||31.101 grams (1.000 ounces)|
|Diameter:||1.598 inches (40.60 mm)|
|Thickness:||0.117 inches (2.98 mm)|
|Composition:||99.93% silver, 0.07% copper|
1986 Silver Eagle Design
|Mint Mark:||Bullion – None, Proof – ‘S’|
|Obverse Designer:||Adolph A. Weinman|
|Reverse Designer:||John Mercanti|