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Everyone knows that American Silver Eagles are a popular choice amongst collectors, but did you know that it is the most collected coin in the entire world? What really surprised me when I did my research was that silver rounds are the second most popular way to collect silver.
The next most popular coin for collecting actual legal tender is the Canada Silver Maple Leaf. The 1 oz Canadian Silver Maple Leaf coins are one of the most beautiful Silver coins in the world and carry a $5 Dollar denomination along with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, and the year.
Did you also know that the United States has its own treasure chest of precious metal and gemstones? Just after World War II, the United States created the United States National Defense Stockpile in order to store materials for our military and industries at times of national emergency, such as war. It stores and secures diamonds, silver, platinum group metals, zinc and other raw materials. Diamonds!
By 1968, this stockpile had exceeded around 165 million ounces for potential future use. In the 1970’s it was determined that the supply exceeded any projected U.S. wartime needs, so in 1982, Senator McClure of Idaho proposed we use the excess silver for bullion coins. After several failed attempts at getting legislation passed, he finally succeeded at getting the “Liberty Coin Act” passed and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law on July 9, 1985.
The first American Silver Eagle was struck during the last few months of 1986. Despite the short window of availability, 5,393,005 of the bullion coins were sold for a small premium above the average spot price of the one ounce of silver contained in them. In 1986, spot silver averaged $5.47 an ounce, so had you bought them in 1986, they have tripled in value just in spot silver alone. Of course, since they are the first year of issue – always a key coin, their current value (2/2018), according to NGC, APMEX and PCGS is around seven times more.
Spot Silver Pricing 1986 vs. 2017 – chart courtesy of kitco.com
Design - In 1915, the new Mint Director began the process of replacing the Barber coinage. The Commission of Fine Arts conducted a competition, and Adolph A. Weinman, was selected to design the dime and half dollar. The half dollar design depicted Lady Liberty walking confidently forward. Liberty steps toward a sunrise carrying branches of laurel and oak. Her shoulders are draped with the American flag. This became one of the most beloved designs of any United States coin and was revived for America’s first silver bullion coin. The coin’s reverse was designed by John M. Mercanti and features an eagle perched behind a shield. It carries arrows and an olive branch in its talons. A group of five-pointed stars represent the original 13 colonies. The coin gets its name from the reverse design.
Types – In addition to the bullion and proof versions, the Mint also offers uncirculated Silver Eagles. Here’s a rundown of the various Silver Eagles you can collect:
Bullion, or Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) Silver Eagles do not bear a mint mark, which means you will need to know their history to determine where they were made. The Philadelphia location struck BU Silver Eagles from 1986 to 2000, with West Point producing a portion of them between 1999 and 2000. Since 2001, the coins have been manufactured at West Point. Except, that is not exactly true! In 2011, the West Point Mint could not keep up with the demand for BU Silver Eagles and the San Francisco Mint struck them as well. These are referred to as “Supplemental” Silver Eagle. Since the coins bear no mint mark, the only way you can tell where the coin was struck is by the sealed box that it was shipped from. To date, there are nine “supplemental” Silver Eagles - 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 S Mint and 2015, 2016, 2017 P Mint. The United States Mint does not sell American Eagle Bullion coins directly to the public. Instead, the Mint distributes Bullion coins through a network of wholesalers, brokerage companies, precious metal firms, coin dealers, and participating banks, known as Authorized Purchasers.
Proof - The United States Mint produces proof versions of the American Eagle Coins for collectors. The term “proof” refers to a specialized minting process that begins by manually feeding burnished coin blanks into presses fitted with special dies. Each coin is struck multiple times so the softly frosted, yet detailed images seem to float above a mirror-like field. After scrutiny by white gloved inspectors, each American Eagle Proof Coin is placed in a protective plastic capsule and mounted in a handsome satin-lined velvet presentation case. Silver Eagle Proof Coins sell at a fixed price and can be purchased directly from the United States Mint for the current year only. Previous years issues must be purchased from coin dealers.
The United States Mint produced this video to show how proof coins are made:
Uncirculated - The term “uncirculated” refers to the specialized minting process used to create coins. Although they are similar in appearance to American Eagle Bullion Coins, uncirculated quality coins are distinguished by the presence of a mint mark, indicating their production facility, and by the use of burnished coin blanks, which are hand-fed into specially adapted coining presses one at a time. These coins are available directly from the United States Mint for the current year only. Previous years issues must be purchased from coin dealers.
Reverse Proof – In 2006, for the 20th anniversary of the series, the United States Mint issued its first reverse proof coin. Subsequent issues were made in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Instead of featuring a frosted device and a mirrored field, reverse proof coins feature a frosted field and a mirrored device. The visual effect of the reverse proof is stunning. The design on a standard proof coin may appear like a crisp black and white photograph, but the design on a reverse proof will appear like the negative of a black and white photograph. Check out these images provided by Apmex to highlight the differences:
Silver Eagles are available in raw and graded condition. What exactly does “graded” mean? Well, a "grade" measures the coin's appearance. There are generally five main components which determine a coin's grade: strike, surface preservation, luster, coloration and eye appeal. In the late 1940’s a well-known numismatist Dr. William Herbert Sheldon attempted to standardize coin grading by proposing what is now known as the Sheldon Scale. Basically, coins are graded on a scale of 1 to 70, with “70” being considered flawless. It became the standard for grading U.S. coins today, and is used by the major third party grading services when assigning a grade to a coin. The top three grading companies are NGC, PCGS and ANACS. When choosing a grading company, keep in mind that the grade of the coin should be and expert, impartial opinion. Grading companies do not typically sell coins, as this would be a conflict of interest. Imagine XYZ company taking a circulated coin, slapping a “70” grade on it and selling it to you for an over-inflated value!
So how do you begin to collect Silver Eagles? Well, you can start small collect one from each Mint. Or you can decide to collect only Proof Versions and compile a year set. You can collect raw or graded. Grade “69” are still valuable, but affordable. There are many ways to store and display your collection. There are book-like albums and various boxes designed to hold the coins in capsules or grading slabs. Collecting Silver Eagles is often a wise investment, as the silver content has an intrinsic value. American Eagle Silver Bullion coins are considered investment-grade silver bullion coins and are the only official investment-grade silver coins in the United States. As such, these coins can be used to fund Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Major investment markets around the globe also accept them. Additionally, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) exempts the American Eagle Silver Bullion coins from IRS 1099 reporting, which provides the investors with an added level of privacy.
Silver Eagles are easy to buy and sell at most coin, precious metal and brokerage companies. Prices are based on the market price of silver, plus a small premium to cover minting and distribution costs. Patriotic Mint prides itself on competitive prices and great service. We’re here to help! Turn your hobby into a wise investment!