In 1986 the United States Mint began striking new silver and gold annual coins. Representing the silver side are American Silver Eagles. Through the middle of 2010, the mintage total for the silver dollar coins is over 230 million coins.
That’s a pittance contrasted against the treasury mintage of daily circulating coins. The total doesn’t even match the U.S. Mint’s output of a couple of week’s worth of pennies in some years. However, such an analogy doesn’t pass the muster of comparing apples to apples. While you’re more than likely very familiar with the US penny, let’s explore the American Silver Eagle coin to discover what’s so different about it.
The Design Of The American Silver Eagle
The American Eagle Silver coin’s heads or obverse bears the Walking Liberty half dollar design that was used between 1916 through 1947 and created by Adolph A. Weinman (1870-1952) beginning the liberty coin act. The United States Mint describes the obverse features 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.”
You’ll notice Weinman’s initials on the hem of Lady Liberty’s gown. The obverse will also have the inscriptions bearing:
- The year the coin was minted
- “In God We Trust”
The coin’s designation within the “American Eagle” coin family hints at its tails or reverse design. You’ve already seen at least the image of the Silver American Eagle’s reverse to know it portrays an eagle.
That design was created by United States Mint sculptor-engraver John Mercanti portrays a heraldic eagle with a shield. The silver eagle mintages have arrows in the right talon and an olive branch in its left.
The reverse of the American Silver Eagle has the inscriptions:
- “United States of America”
- “1 Oz. Fine Silver”
- “E Pluribus Unum”
- “One Dollar”
The Various American Silver Eagle Coins
While the Silver Eagle coins are a relatively young series, keeping track of where they were minted, knowing the available mint marks, and understanding the coin finishes and types can get confusing. In the early years of the Silver Eagle, things were clearer. You could buy them as either:
- Uncirculated, and
Bullion coins are those struck with the intent of being investment vehicles. They do not have the special collector proof or uncirculated finishes, not carry mint marks. The Mint does not sell these coins directly to the public, but instead through a network of authorized dealers who resells them for a small premium over the current spot price of their precious metal content.
Proof coins were issued specifically for coin collectors and, like all proofs, as an enhanced reverse proof, were and are available for direct purchase from the Mint but only during the current year of the coin’s mintage as limited edition silver proof sets.
Uncirculated coins couldn’t be purchased from the U.S. Mint in earlier years. Special satin-finish versions were made available beginning in 2006.
20th Anniversary Of The American Eagle Creates New Coins
In 2006, the US Mint began to sell a new type of Uncirculated American Silver Eagles coin they advertised to coin collectors as mintage figures. Many refer to these coins as the “W Uncirculated” or “Burnished Uncirculated” Silver Eagles. The Mint’s succinct description of their production: “...in a process similar to that used to create the magnificent American Eagle Proof Coins, American Uncirculated Coins are hand-loaded into the coining press, struck on specially burnished blanks and carry the “W” mint mark of the United States at West Point.”
In the same year (2006), as part of the 20th-anniversary celebration of the American Eagle Silver coins, the Mint also released a special reverse proof from the Philadelphia Mint. However, this coin could only be purchased through a limited mintage anniversary 3-coin set, which also included the standard Proof coin and the new “W” Burnished Uncirculated coin.
Mint Facility And Mint Mark Changes Throughout American Eagle Series
From 1986-1992, American Silver Eagle Proof versions were minted at the San Francisco mint facility and included the “S” mint mark. From 1993 through 2000, they were produced in Philadelphia and held the “P” mint mark. Since 2001, Proof Silver Eagles have been minted at West Point and have the “W” mint mark.
Uncirculated (non burnished version) American Eagle production facility and mint mark by year outside the Burnished Uncirculated coins which have a “W” mint mark, all Uncirculated American Eagle Silver coins have never had a mint mark.
From 1986-1988, Uncirculated Silver Eagles were minted at the Philadelphia facility. From 1999-2000, they were produced in both Philadelphia and West Point. (Since the coins have no mint mark, there’s no way to track where they originated.)
Since 2001, the Uncirculated Proof Silver Eagles have been produced solely at West Point mint. Again, with no mint mark.
Rare Coin Created In The 10th Anniversary of American Eagles
Another interesting year for the Silver American Eagles was 1995. That was the year the Mint released the first special commemorative limited edition set. In this case, it was a 1995-W Silver Proof American Eagle and it was only available through a special 5-coin proof anniversary set that honored American Eagle bullion coinage.
The other coins in the set included the one-ounce, half-ounce, quarter-ounce, and tenth-ounce gold eagle coins for a total price of $999 for each of the 30, 125 sets minted. 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 Silver Eagle soon sold by itself for over a thousand dollars. The price continued to escalate and now you’re likely to spend upwards of $5,000 for the single coin itself.
One more thing. In the event, you’re confused about the years “not adding right” when it comes to the 10th anniversary in 1995 and then the 20th anniversary in 2006, you’re not alone. The Mint used two different counting methods which are numismatic. The 1995 set was issued to celebrate the American Eagle coin’s 10th year of production, while the 2006 silver eagle sets were released on the 20th anniversary of the American Eagle program.