The American Silver Eagle was first released in 1986 as part of the American Eagle Bullion Program. This program was authorized by Congress in 1985 to produce gold and silver bullion coins with their weight, content, and purity guaranteed by the United States Government.
The design of the Silver Eagle is taken from the Walking Liberty Half Dollar. This coin was issued for circulation in the United States from 1916 to 1947. It was designed by Adolph A. Weinman and is considered to be one of the most beautiful US coin designs ever created. The reverse of the coin, featuring a heraldic eagle, was designed by John Mercanti specifically for the series.
In 2021 for the first time in 35 years the reverse design was changed to a more modern-looking one that shows an eagle in flight carrying an oak branch in its talons as it is about to land to build a nest. The design is the creation of U.S.-Canadian artist Emily Damstra, who has designed many other coins for the Mint, and was sculpted by Michael Gaudioso.
Damstra said her inspiration for the design came from a desire to show our national bird in a different way – one that emphasized “certain traits such as diligence, cooperation, care and protection,” which she designed with the reverse of the American Gold Eagle created by Miley Busiek. That is because she originally thought her design had been selected for the Gold Eagle rather than the Silver Eagle as the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee had recommended. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin decided to switch the designs and instead use the flying eagle for the silver coins.
In addition, anti-counterfeiting features were part of the redesign – including overt ones like the notch added to reeded edge and others that are covert. And as for the obverse design, although Saint-Gaudens’ classic motif was retained, it was refreshed to make it more consistent with the original artistic intent of the author. That involved some changes to the fonts and to certain details that were made sharper.
For Bullion Investors
American Silver Eagle bullion coins are not sold directly to the public. Instead, the United States Mint distributes the coins through a network of authorized purchasers. These dealers purchase the coins in bulk quantities and then resell them to other bullion dealers, coin dealers, and the public. Authorized purchasers are also required to create a two way market with the public, both buying and selling the coins to ensure liquidity.
Silver Eagles can be purchased through several options. Bulk purchases can be made by buying so-called “Monster Boxes.” These green boxes contain 25 rolls containing 20 coins each, amounting to a total of 500 troy ounces of silver. Since a large number of coins are purchased, this option usually yields the lowest premium. More commonly, coins are purchased by the roll. These rolls have a distinctive green top which includes the seal of the United States Treasury. Of course, the coins can also be purchased individually, but this generally results in the largest premium.
From the beginning of the series, American Silver Eagles have drawn the attention of not only bullion investors but also coin collectors. The coins are often viewed as the modern equivalent of Silver Dollars, since they are struck in silver and carry a $1 face value. Coin collectors can assemble the complete series by obtaining one coin for each date and adding to the collection with each new release. Some collectors assemble sets of coins which are encapsulated and graded by third party grading companies such as PCGS or NGC. The top graded coins typically command significant premiums above intrinsic value.
The United States Mint has also produced different versions of the coin specifically for coin collectors. From 1986 to present, the Mint has produced and offered Proof Silver Eagles. These coins are struck with specially prepared dies to create sharp features, mirror like backgrounds, and frosted design elements. From 2006 to present, the US Mint also produced a collectible uncirculated version, struck on specially burnished blanks and carrying the “W” mint mark. Other special versions of the coin have been offered to coincide with the 10th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries of the program.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the program in 2016, both the proof and uncirculated versions of the coin were issued with a plain edge and incused designation of the anniversary.
For the 35th anniversary, a special American Eagle One-Ounce Silver Reverse Proof Two-Coin Set Designer Edition was issued that included Reverse Proof versions of both the Type 1 and Type 2 American Silver Eagle.
Growing Demand for Silver Eagles
In recent years, the demand for silver bullion coins has expanded considerably. The economic uncertainties experienced during the second half of 2008 led to a dramatic increase in demand for physical precious metals. The United States Mint experienced difficulty meeting the sudden higher level of demand for bullion coins.
On several occasions, the Mint has been forced to suspend bullion coin sales when available inventories were exhausted. The Mint has also often resorted to imposing an allocation program, which rationed available supplies amongst authorized purchasers. Despite the suspensions and rationing, annual silver bullion coin sales achieved successive all time highs from 2008 to 2011. Annual sales records were also achieved in 2013, 2014, and 2015 when sales reached 47,000,000.
The high demand for bullion coins has also had implications for collectors. The highly popular collectible proof and uncirculated versions of the Silver Eagle were canceled for 2009, as the Mint diverted all supplies of incoming silver blanks to the production of bullion coins. Following the passage of special legislation, collector versions resumed their typical availability.
In 2019 the Mint again had to temporarily suspend sales of bullion American Silver Eagle coins because it ran out of them on February 21 and resumed sales on April 1.
In 2020 that happened again when demand was strong after being lower for several years, and the Mint ran out of coins, having to suspend sales on March 12 and later resumed them on an allocated basis.
In addition, due to the COIV-19 virus and pandemic, production had to be suspended for several days in March and April when an employee tested positive for the virus and special procedures had to be put in place to protect employees.
This led to an emergency run of 240,000 coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint in April that does not normally produce these coins. Also, a million coins were struck at the San Francisco Mint to supplement production at the West Point Mint.