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American Silver Eagles serve as the backbone of many collections around the world. While other countries began issuing silver bullion coins earlier, the Silver Eagle’s status as the only annual modern silver bullion series backed for weight and purity by the United States government earned it preeminent status in the numismatic world. In the year that the bullion series began, so, too, did the proof series. Although Proof Silver Eagle mintages are just a small fraction of the bullion ones, they are popular among many collectors looking to buy silver. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Silver Eagle in 2006, the U.S Mint began issuing burnished Silver Eagles as well. Save for a two-year hiatus, the coin has been released every year since. Here are some of the key dates that even some of the most avid collectors have not yet managed to add to their collections.
The first year of a new series is almost always among the most popular. The 1986 Silver Eagle fits that pattern perfectly. The coin’s mintage was comparable to those of many other early years, but its status as the first makes it particularly important in the eyes of many collectors. Adding to its appeal is the variety within the issue, as the US Mint tested a variety of finishes for the coin. Although all 1986 BU Silver Eagles are attractive, Mint State 70 examples are especially scarce. In fact, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) awarded just 1.1% of the coins submitted to it their highest grade. Those that did earn it often command substantial premiums. It was recently discovered that all 1986 bullion American Silver Eagles were struck at the San Francisco Mint!
1994 saw the lowest mintage in this bullion series to date at under 4.3 million pieces. That is less than 10% of the numbers struck from 2013-2015. Coins in this issue tend to be spotty, which is why just 0.14% of those submitted to NGC earned MS70 grades. Not surprisingly, the few that made the cut tend to sell with eye-popping premiums.
Like the 1994 edition, this year saw major production problems. Milk spots emerged on many pieces, and NGC graded more than 600 MS69s for every MS70. This year also had the lowest mintage in the entire series at just over 3.6 million pieces. Accordingly, both MS70s and ungraded issues can be elusive.
The existence of a production run of bullion American Silver Eagle that were struck at the Philadelphia branch Mint in 2015 was recently discovered thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The request, which was filed by Coin World and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), resulted in the United States Mint releasing information concerning the mintage and production facility of Silver Eagles struck from 2014-2017. This information revealed that in 2015, just 79,500 bullion Silver Eagles were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, making this the lowest silver bullion issue of the series to date!
Between April 8, 2020, and April 20, 2020, the Philadelphia Mint struck 240,000 brilliant uncirculated bullion American Silver Eagles. While bullion Silver Eagles are usually struck at the West Point and San Francisco Mints, this year, a portion of the production was shifted to the Philadelphia Mint due to both consistent demand for the coins and complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. While bullion issues do not carry mint marks, thanks to tracking numbers on sealed monster boxes, from which facility the Silver Eagles originated, can be parsed out by savvy collectors and third-party grading services like Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC). The low mintage of 240,000 makes the 2020 (P) Emergency Silver Eagles the second-lowest bullion American Silver Eagle issue to date.
In 1993, the US Mint moved production of Proof Silver Eagles from San Francisco to Philadelphia. That year, just 405,913 Proofs were struck. It became the lowest standard proof mintage in the history of the series to that point.
Sales dropped despite the low mintage of 1993. Just 372,168 Proof Silver Eagles were struck in 1994, making this one lowest issue in the entire series. While percentagewise, this issue is close to its predecessor, its status as the lowest standard mintage makes this one of the costlier issues to acquire of any regular issue Proof Silver Eagle.
While not issued as the annual Proof Silver Eagle, the 1995-W Silver Eagle is largely considered to be THE key date of the entire Silver Eagle series. Issued and only available in in the 10th Anniversary Set, while a mintage of 45,000 was initially set, only 30,125 sold and are thus now available to collectors. Sometimes called “the King of American Silver Eagles,” this issue gained the number four position in the famous resource book, 100 Greatest U.S Modern Coins.
The Burnished Silver Eagle is the youngest of the three annual issues. Accordingly, the key dates are more likely to change than they are for BU and Proof Silver Eagles. That said, it is also possible that the recent dip in mintages could have resulted in all-time lows. Time will tell.
2017 set a new low for Burnished Silver Eagle production. It marked the first year that fewer than 150,000 pieces were struck. A handful of special Silver Eagle issues have had lower mintages, but this was at the time the lowest mintage among the three regular issues at the time.
The final 2018 mintage numbers remain unclear, but as of late December, this edition looked all but certain to break the record of the previous year. As of Dec. 30, 2018, fewer than 131,000 had been sold.
With relatively little variation in the three annual Silver Eagle series over time, the search for key dates is the perfect way to spruce up collecting for those who love its iconic designs. While the burnished key dates may change, the key dates of the proofs and business strikes seem secure for the foreseeable future, although who knows what time may bring. Why not try adding a few of these standout pieces to your collection?
In November of 2019, the United States Mint released an Enhanced Reverse Proof Silver Eagle that was struck at the San Francisco Mint. Not only does the enhanced reverse proof finish allow the iconic American Eagle design to be appreciated in a seldom-seen light, but this release boasts a mintage limit of just 30,000 coins, which gives this issue a lower mintage than the previous king, the 1995-W Proof.
At some point in mid-2021, the United States Mint will be unveiling a new reverse design for the first time in the series’ 35-year history. After a grueling review process, the final design that was chosen showcases an eagle in flight, grasping an oak branch in its talons. For more information about the American Silver and Gold Eagle re-designs, click here!
The new design will appear in mid-2021 for bullion issues, and the United States Mint is releasing two different bullion silver eagle options in 2021, one featuring Mercanti’s original reverse design, the other featuring Damstra’s new reverse design. Collector versions bearing the updated Silver Eagle reverse design are expected to appear in mid-2021 as well.
While no mintages are yet known for the 2021 Silver Eagles, first years of issues are always of interest to collectors. The first significant design change to the American Silver Eagle series is sure to draw interest.
The last year of issue draws just about as much collector interest as the first year of issue. With the new Silver Eagle reverse design just around the corner, the final Silver Eagle issues featuring Mercanti’s original reverse design are sure to be treasured for years to come. The Mint is still releasing information about when the new design will appear on all American Silver Eagle versions.
For example, the recently released 2020-S Proof American Silver Eagle is the last San Francisco Proof American Eagle that will bear the original reverse design. However, the United States Mint is releasing 2021-dated bullion Silver Eagles featuring the original design at the beginning of 2021. It will release 2021-dated bullion Silver Eagles with the new design later in the year.
||Sean McConeghy is a freelance writer and network marketer living in Roatan, Honduras. He originally hails from New York and specializes in writing about numismatics, real estate, and politics.|