The official silver bullion coin of the US, the American Silver Eagle has been in production since 1986. It is one of three precious metal bullion coins issued by the US Mint, the others being gold and platinum, all carrying the “Eagle” designation.
The Silver in US Coins
From the first coins issued 2,700 years ago in the ancient kingdom of Lydia until well into the 20th century, coins had intrinsic value based on how much of a certain metal they contained. The first US dollar was a .95-ounce coin made of 90% silver, a composition that remained more or less consistent until the suspension of silver dollar production in 1935. Production of dollar coins resumed in 1971 with the Eisenhower dollar, but coins released for circulation contained no silver. In 1965, silver was removed from all US coins except the Kennedy half dollar, which retained a 40% silver content until it was removed in 1971.
A Surplus of Silver
The US began maintaining stockpiles of silver for strategic purposes after World War II. By 1981 that reserve totaled over 100 million troy ounces and several politicians wanted some of it sold off to reduce the national debt. Congress authorized the sale of 75% of the reserve over a three-year period and silver prices tumbled as speculators and investors sold off their inventories in anticipation of lower prices. Rather than dumping that much silver onto the market with its negative consequences, Senator James E. McClure of Idaho proposed the silver be made into coins for investors and collectors. This was at a time when US investors, freed from restrictions on gold ownership several years earlier, had begun buying gold and silver bullion coins issued by foreign governments such as South African Krugerrands and Canadian Maple Leafs.
Bullion Breaks Out
After several years of political wrangling, the authorizing law for the American Eagle bullion program was signed by President Reagan on July 9, 1985. The first American Silver Eagle coin was struck in San Francisco on October 29, 1986. The coins were released to the public on November 24 that year, and the inventory of 5.4 million coins sold out almost immediately.
About the American Silver Eagle
The Silver Eagle has been produced at three mints: Philadelphia, San Francisco, and West Point. Since then, nearly 350 million American Silver Eagle bullion coins have been made and sold through bullion dealers. An additional 20 million proof coins and 2.5 million uncirculated coins have been sold directly to consumers by the Mint as single coins or in sets.
American Eagle silver coins have a face value of $1 and contain one ounce of pure silver in an alloy of 99.93% silver and .07% copper. The “Eagle” designation actually comes from the design of the American Gold Eagle coin that features an eagle returning to its nest on the reverse and is evocative of early US gold coins known as Eagles.
The face of the Silver Eagle carries Adolph A. Weinman’s beautiful full–length Walking Liberty design, first used on the 1916-1947 half dollar. The reverse features John Mercanti’s design of a heraldic eagle with a shield, an olive branch in the right talon and arrows in the left, and 13 stars above its head.
American Eagle Silver Bullion Coins
Unlike proof and uncirculated coins sold by the US Mint, American Silver Eagle bullion coins carry a date but no mint mark despite having been made at three different Mint facilities over the past 30+ years. This is because the coins are made as stores of silver bullion for investors and carry little numismatic value—although several dates sell for well above their bullion value, proving there is also demand by collectors. And since they are bullion coins, these Silver Eagle coins can be held as investments in IRAs, along with other forms of precious metals.
Proof and Uncirculated American Eagle Silver Coins
The Mint offers proof as well as uncirculated coins (begun in 2006) for collectors individually and in multiple sets with special packaging to commemorate various times and events. These coins carry both a date and a mint mark, including those made between 1993 and 2000 in Philadelphia, which generally doesn’t use a mint mark. Mixed sets with other coins are also available. The rarest of the issue is the 1995-W West Point proof coin with a mintage of only 30,125 coins.
There are two general types of American Eagle silver coins. Most are Type 1 “Normal” strikes, issued in both bullion and proof varieties. The Type 2 “Reverse Proof” coins were made in 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012 with a frosted background and mirrored raised surfaces, the opposite of the “normal” proof coins.
Several special issues have also been released beginning with the “Philadelphia Set” in 1993 to commemorate the bicentennial of the first US coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1793. In all, special issue coins number over a dozen and more are sure to come.
The first significant variety of Silver Eagle coins occurred in 2008 when the mint made a slight change to the reverse design. Some 2008 coins were struck with 2007 reverse dies, and the result of the error was the "2008-W Silver Eagle Reverse of 2007 Variety." About 47,000 of those coins went into circulation and are highly collectible, with recent prices of well over $400.
Collecting American Silver Eagle Coins
Proof and uncirculated American Eagle silver coins are heavily collected. Most are readily available and reasonably priced. Besides collecting, American Eagle coins in silver, gold, and platinum make great gifts that will be treasured by recipients for many years to come.
We invite you to browse the extensive collection of American Eagle Silver coins offered by the Great American Coin company. We also have American Eagle and other certified bullion and collectible coins to satisfy all your collecting, investing, and gift-giving needs.