Released by the United States Mint as the eleventh annual offering in a series of numismatic silver coins was the 1996-P Proof American Silver Eagle. It continued a series of Proof American Silver Eagles dating back to 1986 and one that is still offered by the US Mint today.
In fact, the Proof Silver Eagle line is one of the most popular annual numismatic products issued by the United States Mint. Coins struck as part of it are each composed of one ounce of .999 fine silver and feature a diameter of 40.60mm.
Likely the silver content plays a significant role in the demand seen for the proof coin, but another important aspect also plays a part – the design. Since their debut in 1986, Silver Eagles have shown the same obverse and reverse imagery including a reverse design of a heraldic eagle with shield by US Mint engraver John Mercanti.
But it is the obverse design that typically catches people’s attention. It features a depiction of "Walking Liberty" by Adolph A. Weinman. The design was actually originally found on the 1916-1947 half dollar and came to be one of the most loved designs in the history of American coinage. Many believe it to be one of the most beautiful ever to be seen on a coin.
Proof Silver Eagles are released as the numismatic versions of the bullion Silver Eagles. Both versions feature the same basic specifications and designs, but have different finishes and different intended markets. Bullion Silver Eagles are struck with a bullion finish and are sold through a network of authorized purchasers for a small premium above the current spot price of the silver contained within it. Also, bullion coins contain no mintmark.
The Proof Silver Eagles feature a proof finish which typically has a higher level of detail on the frosted devices and a mirror-like background. Proof coins contain a mintmark indicating which facility they were struck at and are sold directly to the public by the US Mint for a much larger premium over and above any melt value associated with it.
1996 Silver Eagle Mintages
Mintages for the series actually improved significantly with the release of the 1996-P Proof American Silver Eagle. The United States Mint recorded a total of 498,293 of the 1996-P Silver Eagles sold. This was the largest number sold in the series since the 1992 release.
In comparison, bullion Silver Eagle demand diminished during the year with just 3,603,386 sold. While that number may seem like a lot in comparison to the Proof Eagles, it pales in comparison to previous releases such as the 1995 year-dated bullion Eagles of which 4,672,051 were sold. For the record, the average London Fix for Silver for 1996 was $5.20 an ounce.