In October United States Mint officials announced that they will be introducing new designs to the reverses of both the American Silver Eagle and American Gold Eagle beginning with the bullion versions of both coins in 2021. This major change to the Mint’s two flagship coin programs, which is one of the most significant initiatives from the Mint in decades, is being timed to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the introduction of these amazingly popular coins – the best-selling silver and gold coins in the world – in 1986. Both are valued for their precious metal content and prized by collector pieces with several different versions of both coins now issued annually including bullion, Proof and burnished uncirculated as well as special issues released periodically such as Reverse Proofs and others.
The redesign is also being rolled-out to introduce both overt and covert enhancements to protect the coins against the increasing scourge of counterfeiting, which Mint officials describe as state-of-the-art measures that were recommended by a team of experts. These enhancements are expected to bring U.S. bullion coins to a substantially higher level of security, but how they will compare to, for example, recent changes to the Canadian Maple Leaf coins is not yet known.
During the 2019 U.S. Mint numismatic forum held in Philadelphia on October 24-25, Mint Director David Ryder said the redesign and anti-counterfeiting program is proceeding on schedule. He also said that the Mint’s engraving staff had already prepared several designs that were being evaluated – none of which had been submitted for prior programs and added that they may also reach out to outside artists for designs.
The new reverse designs will be introduced to the Proof and other collector versions of both coins later on. Presumably, the change is coming first only to the bullion coins to see how the designs are embraced by buyers before introducing the new designs on other versions. In recent years, a growing number of collectors have suggested they would like to see new designs, while others have said they would prefer to leave them as they are. The reverses, which feature modern designs, are most frequently mentioned as the side that could benefit from a change since the classic obverses are so popular and closely tied to the identity of each coin.
Under existing law, the design of either side can be changed once every 25 years, and once that is done it can’t be changed again for 25 years, making it critical for the Mint to get any redesign right. In addition, the law that created the American Silver Eagle program (the American Liberty Coin Act of 1985) only mandates that the reverse feature a design of an eagle, while the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985 (that created the American Gold Eagles) mandates the use of the specific reverse design on that coin that is known as Family of Eagles. That design was created by sculptor Miley Busiek Frost and shows a male eagle flying above and carrying an olive branch with the mother and her hatchlings in a nest below – a design the artist has said is intended to send a message of hope. Legislation may be needed to change the gold reverse because of the 1985 provision.
The reverse of the American Silver Eagle that has been used on every coin in the series since 1986 is a front-facing Heraldic Eagle with a union shield in the center that was designed by former U.S. Mint Chief Engraver John Mercanti, who also made minor modifications to the obverse design to enhance certain motifs. Mercanti has said he considered other types of eagles such as those that have appeared since 1794 on many U.S. coins but decided to make his different and more formal. It is reminiscent of the Great Seal of the United States.
While broadly popular, some collectors have said a more classic reverse design would have paired better with the obverse based on Adolph Weinman’s enormously popular Walking Liberty design that was first used on half dollars from 1916 to 1947.
The same view has been expressed about the Family of Eagles design on the reverse of the Gold Eagle when compared to that coin’s classic obverse that features a version of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Lady Liberty motif from his $20 gold double eagle. It is for these reasons unlikely the obverse of either coin will change – something which numismatist Eric Jordan has argued is essential to design cohesion of a coin series.
The current redesign effort is being spearheaded by U.S. Mint Director David J. Ryder, who said in March that he was seeking authority from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to change the designs of these coins. During the August World’s Fair of Money in Chicago, Ryder again said he was looking into changing designs and improving anti-counterfeiting measures on these coins.
Prior to this, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee has in the past suggested implementing a new eagle design for the reverse of the Silver Eagle – most recently at a meeting in April 2014 when it proposed using a design of a flying eagle reminiscent of the eagle on the reverse of Gobrecht silver dollars. That design had originally been considered for a $5 gold commemorative coin for the U.S. Marshals Service. The Mint opted not to use it for the eagle but instead featured it on the reverse of the 2015 American Liberty gold coin and 2016 silver medal.
When interviewed in May in Coin World, John Mercanti said of the possibility of a change to his reverse design that “Nothing lasts forever,” while Miley Busiek Frost questioned the wisdom of changing the Gold Eagle reverse if the intent is primarily to enhance anti-counterfeiting technology. At that time the Mint’s interest in changing designs for aesthetic reasons was not yet known.
For more information on recent news from the United States Mint, read this Info-Vault article.
Collectors and dealers are looking forward with great anticipation to the new reverse designs, which most experts expect will help to increase interest in series by bringing in new collectors and shore up sales, especially of the bullion coins, which have been lagging in recent years.
Numismatists also point out that the introduction of the new reverse designs will create two sets or subsets of American Silver and Gold Eagles – those issued with the original reverses from 1986 to 2020, and those minted from 2021 onwards with the new reverses. This also gives new collectors the choice to collect only the new versions, or to also collect back dates of the previous one if they desire a complete set of both design types.
This change will require updates to reference books on both series and albums and other products designed to store the coins, but it is not expected to create a two-tier market for the coins based on design types. There are already specific dates and issues in both series that are highly sought by collectors, usually because of their low mintages, and there is little reason for now to expect the entire group of coins with the first design to be valued differently than those to be issued with the new reverse designs.
This new chapter in the most important modern U.S. silver and gold coin series will have many benefits for buyers and collectors such as greater of peace of mind about the authenticity of raw coins, while reshaping the coin market and numismatic hobby in ways that can’t even be anticipated or predicted today.
Paul Gilkes, “Redesign schedule on track at U.S. Mint,” Coin World, November 18, 2019;
“2021 American eagle changes applauded by market makers,” November 2019,
“American Eagles to be redesigned,” October 28, 2019;
“American Eagle coin artists comment on redesign,” May 17, 2019
Louis Golino, “The Future of American Silver Eagles: Continuity vs. Change,” www.coinweek.com, October 29, 2018
John Mercanti and Michael Miles Standish, American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program (Whitman, 2016)
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||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.|