The American Silver Eagle is easily one of the most popular silver products on the market. There are differtent types of people who might collect Silver Eagles, for various reasons. Some collect graded versions of the coins, others are known ‘stackers’ who collect for the bullion value.
Regardless of which reason you’ve acquired an American Silver Eagle collection, it’s best to learn a few things about the series before making any costly mistakes. In this article we’re going to review the history of the Silver Eagle and some tips for collecting them.
The U.S. Silver Eagle has somewhat peculiar orgins. In the late 1970’s the United States had over 105 million troy silver ounces of silver stockpiled and no way to capitalize on it. The process was tense and took years of back and forth debate between silver miners, congress and even the President, to hammer out. Several proposals were shot down before an agreement was finally reached on June 21, 1985, to ammend the ‘Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island Commemorative Coin Act.’ And in 1986 the U.S. began producing the Silver Eagle.
In 2002 the United States silver ‘stockpile’ was dangerously low and the program was in jeopardy of ending, since the purpose was to only sell excess silver. However, new legislation introduced by Senator Harry Reid allowed the U.S. to purchase bullion on the open market to maintain the program.
The design of the coin was inspired by the ‘Walking Liberty’ half dollar that was produced from 1916 to 1947. Every coin is guaranteed to contain one troy ounce of 99 percent pure silver. Silver Eagles have a face value of one dollar and is the only U.S. minted investment grade silver coin.
Types of Silver Eagles
From 1985 to 1995 there was only two types of Silver Eagles produced the standard bullion and proof editions. Beginning with the 10 year anniversary in 1995 the mint began experimenting with special sets. Most of these sets include Eagles minted at the West Point mint in much smaller quantities than the standard coins for the year. In 1995 collectors began using special notations to separate these coins from the standard issue. These abbreviations are actually quite simple to decipher.
- ‘W’- Any Silver eagle listed with a W implies that the coin was minted at the West Point mint.
- ‘RP’- Silver Eagles listed with a RP means that the coin is a reverse proof, meaning that the fields of the coin are frosty and the devices are mirror like.
- ‘S’- A Silver Eagle listed with a S means the coin was minted in San Francisco
- Most Eagles with special notations and lower mintages were sold as part of anniversary sets. Examples are the 1995, 2006 and 2011 sets.
- ‘E’- A silver eagle listed with an E means that the coin is enhanced, a good example is the 2019 enhanced reverse proof American Silver Eagle.
Ways to collect Silver Eagles
There are multiple ways to build a Silver Eagle collection depending on your level of commitment to the hobby. There isn’t really any right or wrong way to build a collection but many enthusiasts like to begin by acquiring at least one Eagle from 1986 onward. Other ways to build a collection include:
- Collecting a graded set.
- Collecting circulated Eagles for the bullion value also known as ‘stacking’.
- Collecting limited edition Silver Eagles.
- Collecting reverse proofs only.
- Collecting Eagles by mintmark.
Take the time to research individual price points until you’re comfortable making a purchase. There is a paragraph at the bottom of the article that will walk you through the process of determining the fair market value of American Silver Eagles. The key is to find the price point you’re most comfortable with and begin a collection there.
Silver Eagles by the numbers
The number of Silver Eagles produced by the U.S. mint varies from year to year. The below table shows the number of Bullion and Proofs released each year throughout the programs history. You can find the official numbers for reverse proofs, special mintages and unburnished coins in a separate table below this one.
Number of Silver Eagle bullion and proofs produced per year 1986-2020
|Year||Total Bullion||Total Proofs|
Uncirculated (burnished) Silver Eagles, Reverse Proofs, Special and Anniversary Releases
The below table displays the total number of Silver Eagles produced per year in addition to standard bullion and proofs. The special proofs are generally included in anniversary sets and are the most sought after coins within the Silver Eagle collecting community. The ‘burnished’ Eagles are usually minted in limited numbers at West Point and have a unique matte finish. There is more detailed information below the table about each of these unique Silver Eagles.
|Year||Special Proofs||Uncirculated (burnished)|
|2012||(S) (RP) 224,935||226,120|
|2013||‘W’ (RP) 235,689||———–|
|2019||‘W’ (RP) 99,911||———-|
|2019||(S) (ERP) 30,000||———-|
Most Valuable Silver Eagles
The most expensive examples of Silver Eagles are generally graded versions from anniversary sets. These commemorative sets were released in small quantities and often sold out in days or hours. Demand coupled with the fact that only a limited number of the sets receive grades in the 65-70 range make these Eagles especially valuable.
1995-W Silver Eagle
For the first 10 years of production every Silver Eagle was minted in either Philadelphia or San Francisco. In 1995, to mark the 10 year anniversary the U.S. mint released a 5 piece gold set. The 1995-W Silver Eagle was included in the commemorative set as a bonus. A 1995 ‘W’ graded 70 sold for over $86,000 in 2013. A 1995-W graded 69 sells for around $3,000 dollars on Ebay in 2020.
2006 Reverse Proof Silver Eagle
In 2006 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Silver Eagle the U.S. Mint released a special three piece collection, limited to 250,000 copies. The set included a regular proof Silver Eagle, a burnished uncirculated Silver Eagle with a ‘W’ mint mark and a reverse proof Silver Eagle with a ‘P’ mint mark. Priced at $100 the set sold out in less than a month and was quickly selling for over $200 on the open market. In 2020 an ungraded boxed set can still be purchased in the $150-$250 range on Ebay. Individual 2006 reverse proofs with a grade of 70 can fetch near $300.
2011 Reverse Proof Silver Eagle
In 2011 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Silver Eagle the U.S. mint for the second time ever produced a reverse proof. This coin was part of a five piece collection that included:
- 1. Proof Silver Eagle with a ‘W’ mint mark
- 2. Uncirculated Silver Eagle with a ‘W’ mint mark.
- 3. Reverse Proof Silver Eagle with a ‘P’ mint mark.
- 4. Uncirculated Silver Eagle with a ‘S’ mint mark.
- 5. An uncirculated or Bullion Silver Eagle with no mint mark.
The U.S. mint produced these sets in similar fashion as the 1995 and 2006 sets. Production was limited to 100,000 sets and was priced at $299.99. The sets sold out within several hours on release day making it the fastest selling release to date. Today an ungraded box set sells for $500 to $600 dollars on Ebay. The entire 5 piece set graded 70 sells in the $1,200 to $1,500 dollar range. A graded 70 reverse proof version of the 2011 Eagle will cost around $500 dollars when purchased alone in 2020.
2012 Reverse Proof
In 2012 the U.S. mint released a limited number of reversed proofed Eagles in a two coin set to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco mint. The set was limited to 224,935 sets and includes a typical proof American Silver Eagle and a reverse proof. The coins were minted in San Francisco and feature an ‘S’ stamp on the coin. Today a graded 70 example of the reverse proof alone is worth about $130.
2013 West Point Silver Eagle Two-coin set
In 2013 the U.S. mint released a special that features a new enhanced uncirculated Silver Eagle as well as a reverse proof version. The set was only available for 4 weeks and less than 300,000 were minted. an ungraded set can be purchased for around $230 in 2020. Sets graded 70 usually sell for around $300 on Ebay.
2017 San Francisco Mint Silver Eagle
In 2017, the U.S. mint began minting less coins in San Francisco as opposed to West Point. Only 123,906 Eagles were minted in the ‘city by the bay’ that year making them highly desirable to collectors. A graded 70 example can fetch around $500 in 2020.
2018 San Francisco Mint Silver Eagle
Once again in 2018 the mint released limited numbers of coins from it’s San Francisco facility. The total number of Eagles minted with the ‘S’ mark in 2018 was 158,761. This version sells for about $50 in 2020 in ungraded condition.
2019 San Francisco Enhanced Reverse Proof
This Eagle is among the most desired ever created. Not made with the standard silver of the other Eagles the mint went all out on this version using .999 percent ‘fine’ silver. When creating and packaging this product the mint took extra time to ensure that each of these Eagles was handled with condition in mind at all times. The “Enhanced” coins were limited to 30,000 copies and already command high premiums in 2020. Today a graded 70 example costs around $2,500.
Burnished Silver Eagles
In 2006 to mark the Eagles 20th anniversary the U.S. mint began producing Burnished Silver Eagles. Almost annually since (see above table for numbers) the U.S. mint released a limited number of these ‘Burnished Eagles’. The way to tell the difference between a standard Eagle and a burnished one is simple. The burnished Eagle is finished with a less shiny matte finish when compared to standard Eagles. Many numismatists believe that the finish makes the coins more durable for long term storage. All burnished eagles are produced at the West Point mint and have a ‘W’ mint mark. Highly graded examples are among the most desired among collectors.
There are several reputable companies that grade coins in 2020. Each one has it’s own specific checklist it uses when determining a coins grade. As a general rule of thumb though coins are graded by condition on a scale between 1 and 70. The standard metrics used are.
- 1-45 Circulated: A coin that has been circulated and used publicly
- 50-58: About Uncirculated: A coin that has not been issued but shows sign of wear
- 60-70 Uncirculated: A coin that has not been circulated publicly and is still considered mint.
Some of the most trusted coin grading services industry include:
- The Professional Coin Grading Service (link to site) or PCGS, the number one and most trusted grading service.
- The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (link to site) or NGC, perhaps the only real rival to PCGS. NGC is one of the most trusted companies in the business.
- Independent Coin Graders (link to site) or IGC, this company has only been around since 1998 but has already established itself among the best in the industry.
- ANACS (link to site) is America’s oldest coin grading service and have been in the business since 1972. The company has a painless process for mailing in your coins and is held in high regard throughout the community.
Choosing from the list above really equates to personal preference as all of the options provide quality, reliability and most importantly trusted service to their customers.
Security and anti-tampering features
2021 will mark a historic change for the Silver Eagle. Since the coins inception in 1986 the American Silver Eagle has had the same design. Starting in 2021 the reverse of the Silver Eagle will be changed to add new security and anti counterfeiting measures. The reverse side will now feature ‘state of the art’ security features that will be unveiled during a program marking the 35th anniversary of the American Eagle program.
One last tip, how to determine market value
Now that you’re more familiar with the different types of Silver Eagles produced and the numbers minted you might have a better idea of what to actually pay for one. I’ve found that one of the best ways to determine a fair price before purchasing is to look on Ebay. Not just the listings though, people can always list a coin for any price they desire. Take a minute to use the tools Ebay provides and apply the sold and completed listings filter to your results. By doing this you can actually see what similar listings have sold for over the past 30 days. This method will allow you to quickly determine fair value and possibly save you from experiencing buyers remorse in the future.
Hopefully reading this article leaves you a bit more informed and confident in the direction you want to take when building your very own American Silver Eagle collection. The options can seem endless but in the end, properly researching and storing your investment will leave you more satisfied with your decision. If you’re enjoying our content check out another article- How to properly store silver coins long term, 5 tips for success.