In 1986, the United States Mint began producing the American Silver Eagle in uncirculated (bullion) and proof finishes. For 20 years, these two finishes were the only options available. This all changed in 2006, the 20th anniversary of the series, when the U.S. Mint began producing Burnished American Silver Eagles. These Burnished Silver Eagles are struck from 1 Troy oz. .999 fine silver burnished planchets and bear the "W" Mint mark to signify that they were minted at the West Point branch of the US Mint.
While the burnished finish differs from the uncirculated and proof finishes, the design has remained consistent throughout the series in all options. The obverse was created to mimic the Walking Liberty design by Adolph A. Weinman, a German-American sculptor. First used on the Half-Dollar from 1917-1947, the design was named due to the fact that Lady Liberty is depicted as walking across the horizon.
The reverse was designed by the 12th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, John Mercanti. As of 2006, John Mercanti has produced more designs for coins and medals than any other employee in the history of the US Mint. The design chosen for the American Eagle series features a heraldic eagle, gripping an olive branch and arrows by its talons and a banner that reads, "E PLURIBUS UNUM" by its beak. There are 13 starts above the eagle to represent the original 13 colonies.