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American Silver Eagles
The American Silver Eagle (Silver Eagle) is the official silver bullion coin of the United States. Introduced in 1986, it is the best-selling silver bullion coin in the world, with more than a half-billion 1 troy ounce coins sold.
Bullion versions of the American Silver Eagle are produced at the U.S. Mint at West Point. The San Francisco Mint and the main U.S. Mint facilities in Philadelphia have assisted the West Point Mint during periods of high demand. This is necessary at times, since U.S. law mandates that bullion Silver Eagles must be minted in numbers large enough to meet demand.
DID YOU KNOW?
The American Eagle coin program isn't only about silver. American Gold Eagle coins were introduced alongside the Silver Eagle in 1986. The American Platinum Eagle was introduced in 1997, and the American Palladium Eagle was first offered in 2017.
All types of American Silver Eagle coins are struck from 1 troy ounce of .999 fine (99.9% pure) silver. The U.S. Mint does not sell bullion Silver Eagles directly to the public. It lacks the infrastructure necessary to send millions of coins to millions of customers each year. Rather, the Mint sells bullion Silver Eagles in bulk to approved wholesalers, who then sell them to intermediately suppliers and bullion dealers. The U.S. Mint does sell numismatic (collectible) versions of the American Silver Eagle directly to the public.
The Types Of American Silver Eagles
There are three main types of American Silver Eagles: bullion, proof, and "uncirculated." The U.S. Mint from time to time will strike special types of Silver Eagles to mark certain occasions.
Bullion American Silver Eagles:
The "standard" American Silver Eagle coin, this bullion silver coin is what is meant when people use the term "Silver Eagle." The bullion Silver American Eagle has an unlimited mintage each year, and are intended for investors rather than collectors. This does not mean that bullion Silver Eagles see no collector interest, however. There is a numismatic market early each year for the first flawless Silver Eagles certified by the major coin grading services.
Bullion Silver Eagles do not carry a mint mark. This means that on years where the San Francisco Mint or Philadelphia Mint assists the West Point Mint with bullion Silver Eagle production, there is no way to determine which Mint struck any individual coin. Previously, bulk boxes of Silver Eagles carried packing straps with the name of the Mint that produced them. This led to collectors bidding up any of these "monster boxes" that were sealed by the San Francisco Mint, and selling the Silver Eagles inside at a premium. This led to a change in U.S. Mint policy. Now, all bulk monster boxes are sealed with a generic U.S. Mint packing strap.
As mentioned above, the U.S. Mint does not sell bullion Silver Eagles directly to the public due to the number of coins sold each year. Several times since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the Mint has been surprised by investor demand and run out of the coin blanks needed to make the Silver Eagle. This has resulted in suspension of sales, and "allocation" (rationing) of coins once production resumes.
Proof American Silver Eagles:
Proof American Silver Eagles are special numismatic versions of the Silver Eagle. Proof Silver Eagles carry a mint mark, unlike their bullion counterparts. In most years, this is the "W" mint mark of the West Point Mint, where all American Eagle coins are produced. However, proof Silver Eagles are struck at San Francisco or Philadelphia on special occasions for inclusion to special coin sets. These proof Silver Eagles will bear the "S" or "P" mint mark, as appropriate.
Instead of being mass-produced on high-speed coin presses, proof Silver Eagles are made individually. Carefully-polished coin blanks are hand-fed into coining presses fitted with special polished dies which are engraved to show great detail. After being struck, these coins are carefully sealed in a hard plastic coin capsules. The encapsulated coins are then packed in blue presentation cases with a Certificate of Authenticity.
Proof Silver Eagles have a mirror-like finish on the field (background), and "frosted" finishes on the devices (features). These effects are created by striking each coin multiple times in the coining press.
Proof Silver Eagles are minted to meet demand. They were subject to a product limit most years from 1986 through 2004.
Uncirculated American Silver Eagles:
Uncirculated American Silver Eagles, sometimes referred to as Burnished or W-Mint Silver Eagles, were first produced in 2006, to mark the 20th anniversary of the American Eagle coin program. Uncirculated Silver Eagles are produced in a similar manner as proof coins, but using burnished coin blanks. This imparts a "satiny" finish to the coin's field. Uncirculated Silver Eagles are a numismatic product, and carry the "W" mint mark of the West Point Mint. This mint mark is the easiest way to tell the uncirculated Silver Eagle from the bullion version, if the two are not compared side by side. Like the proof American Silver Eagle, the Uncirculated Silver Eagle is minted each year.
Other Types of American Silver Eagles:
Three types of American Silver Eagles have been made for special occasions. These coins were only offered in coin sets with a strict product limit. This makes each of these designs the most rare types of Silver Eagles on the market.
The Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle was first struck 2006 to mark the 20th anniversary of the American Eagle program, similarly to the Uncirculated Silver Eagle. Unlike the regular Proof Silver Eagle, the Reverse Proof coin is minted only on special occasions, as part of limited coins sets. As the name implies, the Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle has frosted fields and mirror-like features, the opposite of the Proof Silver Eagle.
Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle Release Dates
2006-P: Released in 3-coin 20th Anniversary Set (Proof-W, Burnished-W, and Reverse Proof-P)
2011-P: Released in 5-coin 25th Anniversary Set (Proof-W, Burnished-W, Bullion-S, Reverse Proof-P, Burnished-S)
2012-S: Released in 2-coin San Francisco Silver Eagle Set (Proof-S, Reverse Proof-S)
2013-W: Released in 2-coin West Point Silver Eagle Set (Reverse Proof-W, Enhanced Uncirculed-W [see below])
The Enhanced Uncirculated American Silver Eagle features three types of finish: a mirror-like proof finish, a lightly frosted "satin" finish, and a heavily frosted finish. This type of finish on a Silver Eagle was introduced in the 2013 two-coin West Point Silver Eagle Set. the 2013-W Enhanced Uncirculated Silver Eagle has lightly frosted satin fields on both sides
The obverse features a lightly frosted "satin" finish to the fields. This sets off the mirror-like proof finish on the mountains in the background of the scene, Lady Liberty's sandal straps, the "red" stripes and "blue" canton of the American flag draped over her shoulders, and the 2013 date on the bottom. The heavily frosted Liberty's figure, sun, and sunbeams stand out prominently against the satin background. The inscriptions "LIBERTY" and "IN GOD WE TRUST" also seem to "pop" above the fields.
On the reverse of the 2013-W Enhanced Uncirculated Silver Eagle, the heavily frosted devices stand out against the lightly frosted field. The heraldic bald eagle boasts mirror-like proof finishes on the arrows and laurel branch it grasps in its talons, the "red" stripes on the Union Shield, and the flowing ribbon it holds in its beak. The proof ribbon bears the heavily frosted motto "E PLURIBUS UNUM".
The 2013-W remains the only instance of an American Silver Eagle in an Enhanced Uncirculated finish from the U.S. Mint.
The Enhanced Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle is the third and most recent type of rare Silver Eagle coin finishes designed by the U.S. Mint. This design retains the frosted fields of the Reverse Proof coin, but only select features are struck in a mirror-like proof finish, instead of all devices. This unique design debuted in the 2019 two-coin "Pride Of Two Nations" silver coin set issued in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mint. The Silver Maple Leaf included in the set also has a unique finish.
On the obverse (front) of the Enhanced Proof Silver Eagle, only the sun and sunbeams, inscriptions, and "white" stripes and stars on the American flag draped around Liberty's shoulders have a mirror finish. The field and the rest of Liberty's figure are all frosted.
On the reverse (back) of the coin, everything is frosted except the 13 stars over the eagle, the top of and alternating stripes on the shield that the eagle supports, the inscriptions, and the motto "E PLURIBUS UNUM" on the flowing ribbon in the eagle's beak.
The History Of The American Silver Eagle
The American Silver Eagle was authorized by Title II of Public Law 99-61: The Liberty Coin Act of 1985. This law ordered the Secretary of the Treasury to "mint and issue, in quantities sufficient to meet public demand, coins which are 40.6 millimeters in diameter and weigh 31.103 grams; contain .999 fine silver; have a design symbolic of Liberty on the obverse side; and of an eagle on the reverse side…"
This law also stipulated that the silver from these coins be procured from the U.S. Strategic and Critical Materials Stockpile. This clause points towards one of the reasons the American Silver Eagle was authorized. Plummeting silver prices and a domestic oversupply meant that silver was no longer a scarce material vital for any future war effort. Congressmen from silver mining states worked to prevent the Federal government from dumping nearly 140 million ounces of stockpiled silver into an already saturated market.
The result of their efforts led to the Liberty Coin Act. Not only did minting silver investment coins from Strategic Stockpile silver prevent all the silver from being all dumped on the market at once, it saved the government from the huge losses it would have incurred by flooding the market. The Liberty Coin Act provided the government with a profit, and provided the American public with its first government-issued silver investment product.
The first American Silver Eagles were struck at the San Francisco Mint on October 29, 1986. On November 24, enough Silver Eagles had been struck to open sales to the public.
American Silver Eagle Demand Greater Than Expected
The plan behind the Liberty Coin Act was to slowly draw down government stockpiles of silver. After the initial rush of excitement over the first American silver investment coin slowed, low silver prices dampened demand. However, demand for the American Silver Eagle jumped in the late 1990s. Annual Silver Eagle demand grew from 3.6 million coins in 1996 to 9.2 million coins sold in 2000.
The Secretary of the Treasury reported to Congress that there was at most two more years worth of silver left in the Strategic Stockpile at this rate. In response, the "Support of the American Eagle Silver Bullion Program Act" (Public Law 107-201) was passed in 2002. The Act allowed the Secretary of the Treasury to purchase silver on the open market after Strategic Stockpile silver was exhausted.
The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 saw extreme investor demand for safe haven assets, as stock markets crashed and governments cut interest rates and bond yields to unprecedented lows. Demand for American Silver Eagles outstripped the U.S. Mint's ability to meet it, even as silver prices spiked. (View the silver price today on our precious metals spot price charts)The market went from $5/oz silver in 2000, to nearly $50/oz silver in 2011. (Annual American Silver Eagle sales went from 9.2 million coins in 2000 to 40 million coins in 2011.)
The Mint obtains the silver coin blanks to make Silver Eagles from outside contractors instead of making them itself. The sudden crush of orders caught these suppliers (who also had private market customers to supply) off-guard. The 1985 law implementing the American Eagle program commanded the Secretary of the Treasury to mint bullion Silver Eagles "to meet public demand." Due to the shortages of coin blanks, the Mint suspended production of proof Silver Eagles in August 2008.
Shortages continued into 2009, forcing the Mint to cancel proof and uncirculated Silver Eagle production entirely. The outcry from coin collectors led Congress to pass the "Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010” (Public Law 111-302). This changed the law to allow the Secretary of the Treasury to take demand for all types of American Silver Eagles into consideration when setting production quotas -- not just bullion demand.
Silver Eagle bullion coin annual mintages grew from 9 million oz in 2007 to a peak of 47 million in 2015. As the extended stock market rally that began after the Global Financial Crisis continued, safe haven demand eased in the last years of the 2010 decade.
Top Five Mintage Years For The American Silver Eagle
- 2015: 47,000,000
- 2014: 44,006,000
- 2013: 42,675,000
- 2011: 40,020,000
- 2016: 37,701,500
The Symbolism Of The American Silver Eagle
The Symbolism of the American Silver Eagle combines the classic grace of America's Coin Renaissance at the turn of the 20th century with a clean, modern interpretation of one of the United State's earliest emblems.
The Obverse of the American Silver Eagle
The obverse of the American Silver Eagle reprises the Adolph Alexander Weinman 1916-1947 Walking Liberty half dollar design. Acclaimed as one of the most beautiful U.S. coin designs, its reputation reached new heights upon being chosen as the obverse of the American Silver Eagle in 1986. This design features Lady Liberty striding confidently forward, her right hand gesturing toward a rising sun emblematic of the dawning of the "American Century." Liberty is framed by a billowing American flag that is draped over her shoulders. She carries boughs of laurel and oak in the crook of her left arm, symbolizing strength in both peace and war.
DID YOU KNOW?
John Mercanti is the most prolific artist/engraver in U.S. Mint history. He holds more than 200 coin and medal designs to his credit during his 36 years with the Mint. He was the twelfth Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint from 2006 until his retirement in 2010.
The Reverse of the American Silver Eagle
The reverse of the American Silver Eagle is an original design by U.S. Mint engraver John Mercanti. Based on the Great Seal of the President of the United States, a strong heraldic American bald eagle dominates the field, supporting a Union Shield upon its breast. Its upswept wings frame an inverted triangle of thirteen stars that represent the original Thirteen Colonies.
The bald eagle grasps an olive branch in its right talon, and six arrows in its left talon. The olive branch in the right (preferred) talon, symbolizes the desire of the United States for peace, and the arrows in the left talon symbolize the ability and willingness of the United States to defend itself if needed. The billowing ribbon held in the eagle's beak bears the national motto of the United States: "E Pluribus Unum" -- out of many, one.
Why Should You Purchase American Silver Eagle Coins?
Purchasing American Silver Eagle coins can make sense for both investors and coin collectors. The bullion Silver Eagle is the most famous silver bullion coin in the world. This gives them unrivaled liquidity when compared to other silver coins or silver bars. Buying Silver Eagles in lots of twenty coins housed in U.S. Mint storage tubes, or 500 coins in Mint-sealed monster boxes, allows for safe and simple storage in a single purchase. If the need arises to finance a purchase or pay a bill when cash is short, American Silver Eagle bullion coins allow you to sell just enough to cover the expenses. This saves the investor from a large capital gains hit that would result from selling large precious metal items such as gold bars, for example.
For the collector, American Silver Eagle proof and uncirculated coins provide a quality and beauty greater than the bullion version. The U.S Mint regularly produces special coin sets with rare types of proof or burnished Silver Eagles that are not available separately. Even bullion Silver Eagles are collector items. Modern minting techniques are so exact that perfect specimens of mass-produced coins such as the bullion Silver Eagle are created. There is a growing demand for first of these perfect "MS 70" coins that are released each year.