Coin Collectors Handbook: American Eagle Coins

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was updated on May 11, 2020. Please read the new version → here.

The American Silver Eagle program was created to provide a way for the United States government to sell off silver that was saved in the Defense National Stockpile. Following the Coinage Act of 1965 that removed silver United States coinage the amount of silver being used was building up a supply that far exceeded the needs for the national stockpile.

Following several years of discussion that almost led to the bulk auction and sale of the silver, it was decided to use the silver to create a silver investment coin. The program was so successful that when the Defense National Stockpile was depleted in 2002, the original law was changed to continue the program by purchasing silver from U.S.-based mines at market prices to be used for future production.

American Silver Eagle Design

The obverse of the coin is the much-beloved design of that was used on the Walking Liberty Half-Dollar coin from 1916 to 1947. It was designed by Adolph A. Weinman, a former student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

The reverse features a heraldic eagle using a design by John Mercanti who would become the 12th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. Mercanti engraved both sides of the coin that including copying Weinman’s original design.

Each coin contains one troy ounce (31.103 grams) of .999 fine silver with the balance of copper. American Silver Eagle coins are 40.6 mm (1.598 inches) in diameter and 2.98 mm (0.1173 inches) thick with reeded edges. The coins are assigned a face value of $1.00 to give them legal tender status.

Bullion American Silver Eagle Coins

The American Silver Eagle program produces bullion and collectible coins. The bullion coins can be stuck at any branch mint but does not have a mintmark. Bullion coins are sold in bulk to special dealers who then sell it to retailers. They are struck for the investment market.

Although some people do collect bullion coins there are not produced for the collector market. As with other investments, American Silver Eagle bullion coins are subject to taxes when sold. Please consult your financial advisor or tax professional for the tax implications for your situation.

It is important to note that there have been attempts to determine where the bullion coins have been struck. Collectors have tried to use shipping records from the U.S. Mint, shipping labels, and other means to try to investigate the origin of the coins. Although some believe that these methods have identified some coins, the U.S. Mint has said that the shipping records that are being relied upon are not correct and do not reliably show the branch mint of origin.

Collector American Silver Eagle Coins

Collector coins are produced and sold by the U.S. Mint in specialty packaging directly to the public. Collectors can purchase new coins directly from the U.S. Mint and find these coins online. Collector American Silver Eagle coins are produced as proof and uncirculated coins.

The U.S. Mint sells American Silver Eagle proof coins in a specially made capsule and that capsule is placed in a blue velvet-covered case. The case was distributed in a blue box with a Certificate of Authenticity.

Beginning in 2006, the U.S. Mint has produced an uncirculated, business strike coin for the collector market. Most uncirculated American Silver Eagle collector coins are struck in West Point and bear the “W” mintmark. Following striking, the coins are then burnished, a process by treating the surface with fine particles to give the surface a smooth, satin finish. Collector versions of the American Silver Eagle are also placed in a capsule for sale to the public. Packaging has varied from year to year including special collectibles.

When looking for collector American Silver Eagle coins, note that the American Silver Eagle proof coin was not struck in 2009 and the uncirculated burnished coins were not struck in 2009-2010. These years were skipped because the demand for bullion American Silver Eagle coins became higher than the available supply of silver planchets. To satisfy the demand, the U.S. Mint decided not to produce these collector coins.


2018-W American Silver Eagle Proof in Original Government Package

Collector American Silver Eagle coins can be purchased either in their original government package or graded. When searching for coins that are in their original government packaging on most online auction sites, it is recommended that you add “OGP” as part of the search.

Collector American Silver Eagle coins may have been removed from its original government package in order to be sent to a third-party grading service for grading. Most of the time, the original government package may have been discarded. Some dealers will sell the package without the coin for a few dollars, but for collectors of graded coins, this is not a priority.

2007 Reverse Variety

In 2008, the U.S. Mint updated the reverse dies of the American Silver Eagle giving it a slightly different appearance. The reverse die was only supposed to be used on collector American Silver Eagle coins in 2008 before being used for bullion coins in 2009.

However, as a result of the human factor required with operating the minting equipment at the West Point Mint, the reverse dies that were used for the 2007 American Silver Eagle coins were mated with 2008 collector coins creating a new variety for collectors. This is known as a 2008-W Silver Eagle Reverse of 2007 Variety.

2008-W Silver Eagle Reverse of 2007 Variety
(Image courtesy of the Silver Eagle Guide)

The 1995-W

Tenth Anniversary American Eagle Set

As part of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the American Eagle program, the U.S. Mint created the 10th Anniversary American Eagle set. The set contained a 1995-W American Silver Eagle proof coin that was not made available to collectors not buying the set. Collectors wanting to purchase add the 1995-W American Silver Eagle proof coin to their collection had to purchase the entire five-coin set that included four American Gold Eagle proof coins ($5, $10, $25 and $50 gold American Eagles). The set was priced at $999 limiting the number of coins sold.

Most of the sets have been split up to take advantage of the fluctuating metal prices. The gold coins have been sold while the gold prices rose since 1995, but the limited availability has caused the 1995-W American Silver Eagle to rise significantly on the secondary market. Cost to purchase this coin averages about $5,000, depending on the grade. Finding the entire set with the American Gold Eagle coins in their original government package can set you back $8,000 and higher.

Special Sets

In 1993, the U.S. Mint offered The Philadelphia Set, which was issued to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the striking of the first official U.S. coins at the Philadelphia Mint. This special set included each of the Proof American Gold and Silver Eagles struck at the Philadelphia Mint and containing the “P” mint mark. The 1993-P Proof Silver Eagle was included in the set along with the one-half ounce, one-quarter ounce, and one-tenth ounce 1993-P Proof Gold Eagles. Also included was a silver Philadelphia Bicentennial Medal, which specially produced for this numismatic product.

To mark the launch of the new American Platinum Eagle bullion and collector coin series, the US Mint offered the 1997 Impressions of Liberty Set. This set contained the one ounce 1997-W Proof Platinum Eagle, one ounce 1997-W Proof Gold Eagle, and one ounce 1997-P Proof Silver Eagle. Adding some special allure to the set, production was limited to just 5,000 units, which were individually numbered. The serial number for each set was engraved on a brass plate affixed to the wooden display case.

In 2004, the U.S. Mint worked with the United Kingdom’s Royal Mint to create a numismatic product containing the silver bullion coins from each country. The Legacies of Freedom Set contained one 2003 American Silver Eagle bullion coin and one 2002 British Silver Britannia bullion coin. The two coins were placed in special packaging which highlighted the importance of the two national icons.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the 220th anniversary of the United States Mint the two bureaus joined together to release the 2012 Making American History Coin and Currency Set. The set contained a 2012-S American Silver Eagle Proof coin and a $5 note with a serial number beginning in “150”.

As part of the 2016 Ronald Reagan Coin and Chronicles Set the U.S. Mint included a 2016 Proof American Silver Eagle along with a 2016 Ronald Reagan Presidential reverse proof dollar, and a Nancy Reagan Bronze Medal. To complete the set, it included a presidential portrait produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an informational booklet.

Annual Sets

To extend the product line, the U.S. Mint began to create special annual issue sets to entice people to collect U.S. Mint products. The first annual set containing an American Silver Eagle coin was the Annual Uncirculated Dollar Coin Set. First offered in 2007, the set includes the issued uncirculated Presidential dollar coins, an uncirculated Native American dollar coin, and an uncirculated American Silver Eagle. Since the Presidential Dollar Program ended in 2016, it is unclear whether the U.S. Mint will issue the set in 2017.

Since 2012, the U.S. Mint has been producing the Limited Edition Silver Proof Set that contains 90% silver versions of the year’s five America the Beautiful Quarters, Kennedy Half Dollar, and Roosevelt Dime, along with the standard annual Proof American Silver Eagle. Sets are limited to 50,000 units annually.

Starting in 2013, the U.S. Mint has been producing the Congratulations Set as part of a new line of products targeted towards gift giving occasions. The This set included the standard annual Proof Silver Eagle within specially designed packaging which allowed a personalized message to be written the recipient.

Anniversary Sets

2011 American Silver Eagle 25th Anniversary Set

Since the American Eagle Program has been one of the most successful programs in the history of the U.S. Mint, they have used its popularity to extend the product line. Aside from celebrating the anniversary of the program, the U.S. Mint has produced anniversary sets to celebrate Mint facilities.

The Anniversary sets issued are as follows:

  • 1995 American Eagle 10th Anniversary Set included a 1995-W American Silver Eagle Proof coin and four American Gold Eagle coins.
  • 2006 20th Anniversary American Silver Eagle Set was a special three-coin box set included a 2006-W American Silver Eagle with a burnished (satin) finish, a 2006-W American Silver Eagle Proof coin, and a 2006-P American Silver Eagle Reverse Proof coin.
  • 2011 25th Anniversary American Silver Eagle Set was a five-coin box set that contained five different coins. The U.S. Mint produced only 100,000 sets that sold out within the first 10 minutes they were offered online. This extremely popular set is averaging $800 on the secondary market in the original government package. The set includes the following coins:
    • 2011-W (West Point) American Silver Eagle Uncirculated coin
    • 2011-S (San Francisco) American Silver Eagle Uncirculated coin
    • 2011-W (West Point) American Silver Eagle Proof coin
    • 2011-P (Philadelphia) American Silver Eagle Reverse Proof coin
    • 2011 (no mintmark) American Silver Eagle Bullion coin
  • 2012 American Eagle San Francisco Two Coin Silver Proof Set was issued to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the current San Francisco Mint. The set included a 2012-S American Silver Eagle Proof coin and a 2012-S American Silver Eagle Reverse Proof Coin.
  • 2013 West Point American Silver Eagle Set was issued to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the facility in West Point, New York. The set included a 2013-W American Silver Eagle Reverse Proof coin and a 2013-W American Silver Eagle Enhanced Uncirculated coin. This was a popular set since it was the first appearance of the Enhanced Uncirculated finishing process.

Although the U.S. Mint did not issue a set to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the American Silver Eagle in 2016, the collector issues of the coins were issued with special edge lettering. Rather than the edge being reeded it was smooth with “30TH ANNIVERSARY” struck into the edge. Both the proof and burnished uncirculated coins were produced at West Point include the “W” mintmark and the edge lettering.

Rolls and the Green Monster Box

When the U.S. Mint sells bullion coins to their authorized resellers, the coins are packaged in 20-coin hard plastic rolls and 25 rolls are placed in a specially designed box that contains 500 troy ounces of silver. Because the box is green in color and sealed by the U.S. Mint, the package is nicknamed the Green Monster Box.

Resellers sell Green Monster Boxes with the intent of selling to investors. They also sell complete rolls from the Monster Box.

Sealed Green Monster Boxes have the benefit of being unsearched and unhandled since leaving the U.S. Mint. Additionally, the cost per coin is usually the lowest available since the coins are being purchased in bulk. These boxes are usually offered for sale by bullion dealers at a small premium over the current market (spot) price of silver.

In the next installment, we look at the American Gold Eagle coins.

All images courtesy of the U.S. Mint unless otherwise noted.

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