In the early 2,000s, the production of American Silver Eagle bullion coins took place exclusively at the West Point Mint. However, in response to the record demand for these U.S. silver bullion coins, the U.S. Mint decided to supplement their annual production by minting additional coins at their San Francisco facility in 2011.
Although these coins did not bear Mint marks on them, their Mint location is still known thanks to information provided on their packaging. Until 2014, when this information was removed, each nylon strap used by the San Francisco Mint to seal their 500-coin Silver Eagle “monster boxes” had the Mint location printed on it!
The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) have taken advantage of this information by adding a “Mint mark” of their own to their labels. Only available for these San Francisco-struck Silver Eagles, this mark consists of the Mint location, “S,” in parentheses directly after the date. The parentheses are there to show that while the Mint location is known, there is no physical Mint mark on the coin.
In 2015, the Mint again began to supplement American Silver Eagle production with additional coins from the Philadelphia Mint. This happened during the transition period from one year to the next, since demand tends to be highest at the start of a new year. However, these coins struck at Philadelphia were still sealed in monster boxes that said “West Point Mint,” or “WPM” on their straps, making it impossible to know where coins inside were actually produced.
Collectors have long suspected that the U.S. Mint was striking bullion Silver Eagles at multiple Mints, but besides the 2011-2014 (S) issues, there was no real evidence. Then, in early 2017, the U.S. Mint finally revealed that the bullion coins were, in fact, struck at three different Mints. While no additional details were given, this was that was just what was needed to push the numismatic community to take action.
Coin World magazine’s Paul Gilkes quickly responded to this new information from the U.S. Mint with a request for a specific breakdown of mintages by Mint facility for recent Silver Eagle production. The Mint refused to provide that information, so Coin World filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on February 6, 2017.
Meanwhile, NGC had started to notice a difference in the quality of 2017 American Silver Eagles that suggested the coins were made at different facilities. They believed the coins with the highest quality came from West Point, which uses robots to place coins in tubes, while the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints manually tube their coins, providing more opportunity for damage.
Additionally, officials at NGC began to notice a pattern in the serial numbers found on the straps of Silver Eagle monster boxes. They believed these different patterns could be the result of production from different Mints, serving as yet another reason to suspect Silver Eagles were struck at multiple locations. They inquired with the U.S. Mint about these inconsistencies, as well as filing a FOIA request of their own.
The U.S. Mint confirmed that their West Point facility is equipped with robots to tube coins, but stated it also uses manual tubing, while the other two Mint facilities use manual tubing exclusively. In response to the FOIA requests, the Mint on March 20 of 2017 provided a breakdown of which Mint facility produced how many coins for the years 2014 to 2017:
For the entire period in question (2014-2017), we now know that almost 17 million coins were struck at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints, while production at West Point was almost 108 million coins. The U.S. Mint also confirmed that NGC was correct about the numbers on boxes and provided a breakdown of the numbering system for serial numbers on monster boxes.
On Mar 31, NGC announced in a press release that it “can conclusively identify the Mint facility that struck the coins contained in each 2011 to 2017 monster box.” On April 5, PCGS announced that “it will attribute certain 2014 through 2017 American Silver Eagles with a “Mint mark,” indicating where the coin was struck.”
Thanks to the information provided by the Mint in response to the FOIA requests from Coin World and NGC, collectors are now able to collect these coins based on where they were produced. As a result, this segment of the market has exploded in recent weeks with graded coins, especially the key-date 2015-(P) with an ultra-low mintage of only 79,640 coins, continuing to increase in value. That coin is the lowest mintage bullion coin of this type ever produced.
MCM will be offering this key 2015-(P) issue, along with a broad selection of other American Silver Eagle bullion coins from 2015-2017. All of these coins that have grading labels from NGC indicate where they were produced at, as well as condition and other information. Some options even include special labels bearing a colorful theme representing the Mint’s location.
*Recorded as of March 20, 2017.
||Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and American Hard Assets. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He was previously a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.|