American Silver Eagle “Key Date” Coins

American Silver Eagle “Key Date” Coins

  • Posted: Aug 27, 2012
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On the front page of the Wall Street Journal (December 27, 2010), the newspaper highlighted that silver was the second best price performing commodity during 2010 – up 78 percent. Gold, its big brother, was up a mere 28 percent, making silver a far more profitable investment for the precious metal investor.

The Silver American Eagle was a big part of the silver boom for many Americans.

The Silver American Eagle coin is one of the most popular in recent history. Collectors from around the world are fascinated with this coin for a variety of reasons: the personal significance of owning something that very few others in the world possess (at least within the coin’s special varieties discussed below); the idea of building a valuable set of coins that will likely increase in value over time; as a precious metal investment; or for the sheer thrill of owning one of the most beautiful coins ever minted in the history of the United States.

Additionally, if one is financially capable, one can complete a “set” of the highest quality American Eagle Silver Coins (between MS69/70 and PF69/70) in a relatively short period of time. Even the coin collector with modest financial means can, over a few years and with a little patience, acquire the American Eagle series and not over-pay, an investment that will likely serve the buyer quite well into the future.

History of American Eagle Silver Coins

In the 15 years leading up to its release on November 24, 1986, the US Government had not produced any new bullion coins; that was until Senator James McClure, a Republican from Idaho, introduced the “Liberty Coin Act” as part of a larger bill entitled the “Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Commemorative Coin Act” (Public Law 99-61 for anyone who is really passionate about these sorts of things). This bill gave the US Government the legal right to produce silver bullion coins in sufficient quantities to meet the demands of the general public. This bill was signed into law on July 9, 1985.

The obverse of the coin, Lady Liberty was to be the identical image used in the Walking Liberty Half Dollar which exited circulation in 1947. Lady Liberty was designed by well known sculptor Adolph Weinman and was first used in 1916. The reverse, The Heraldic Eagle was designed especially for the American Eagle Silver Coin by John Mercanti.

Quite possibly the most beautiful U.S coin ever produced, the Obverse of the American Silver Eagle depicts a goddess-like image wearing a long gown and sandals, walking full stride. She has an American Flag wrapped around her shoulders with its “stars” end gently flowing behind her right shoulder as if lifted by a gentle breeze. Lady Liberty is carrying branches of laurel and oak in her left hand; her right hand is fully extended in a swinging motion as she walks toward the newly risen sun. The sun, on the lower left hand side of the coin, displays rays of light which emanate from its center. Lady Liberty’s head is covered in a cap similar to that of the one worn by the Goddess Mercury on the Mercury Dime (not surprisingly also designed by Weinman), but without the wings over the ears. Weinman’s initials are stacked in reverse order “WA” on the hem of her gown on the bottom, near the back foot.

The Reverse depicts a Heraldic Eagle with a shield on its chest. The front of the shield has the “look” of an American Flag, with six outwardly protruding and seven inwardly recessed stripes. These stripes extend from 1/3 of the way down the shield all the way to the bottom; however the shield has no stars. There are stars on the reverse, 13 of them, stacked in an upside down triangle floating between the tips of the Eagle’s two fully extended wings. The Eagle is carrying six arrows in its left talon and an olive branch in its right. This presumably represents the United States’ desire for peace on the one hand and un-wavering willingness to protect herself if necessary on the other. The eagle also has 12 tail-feathers.
Flowing from the Eagle’s beak is a ribbon that reads E PLURIBUS UNUM (Out of Many, One). The Designer’s initials “JM” are displayed just underneath the eagle’s right talon.

Even with the amount of information given above, words cannot describe how beautiful the Obverse and the Reverse really are. One must take a coin and inspect it underneath a 5-10x magnification instrument to fully appreciate the detail in its entirety. Under this level of magnification the collector will easily notice the many special features noted above, plus many more.

The coin comes in four variations
1. Uncirculated
2. Burnished Uncirculated
3. Proof
4. Reverse Proof

Uncirculated Silver Eagle Coins

This Uncirculated American Eagle represents the highest production volume of the series. These coins are the standard bullion variety and are easy to identify because they are struck without a mint mark on the reverse, despite the fact that they have been minted both in the San Francisco and the West Point mint since the coin came into existence. These coins are not sold by the US Mint directly to the general public – given their extremely high manufacturing volume, it would very difficult logistically. Instead they are sold to wholesalers/dealers in 500 coin “Monster Boxes” for further distribution.

Burnished Uncirculated Silver Eagle Coins

In 2006 a special burnished coin came into existence. This coin was minted using a special planchet comprised of a smooth matte-like finish. This coin bears the mint mark “W” on the lower left hand side of the reverse identifying it both as a special coin and a product of the West Point mint. When available, these coins are sold directly to the general public only through the US mint.
American Eagle Silver Proof Coins

Until Recently, American Eagle Silver Proof coins had been available since the program’s inception in 1986. These coins, bearing the same obverse and reverse design as the uncirculated version, are produced with a special planchet using a production method that creates a deeply mirrored background and a magnificently frosted device on the foreground. This method yields a truly incredible result on an already impressive coin.

American Silver Eagle Reverse Proof Coins

On the American Eagle’s 20th Anniversary – 2006, the US Mint produced a special Reverse Proof American Eagle Silver Coin. This coin displays the reversed imagery of the proof coin, with a deeply mirrored device and a flat frosted background on both the obverse and reverse. This coin was only produced in 2006 and was the only reverse proof coin ever manufactured by the US Mint. As such it is quite valuable, especially in PF69 and PF70 condition. This coin takes the splendor of American Eagle series to an entirely new level, and is one of the crowning achievements for the American Eagle collector.

The Crown Jewels of Your American Eagle Silver Coin Collection – Two Key Date Coins

2005W Proof Silver Eagle

This is the most sought after coin in the American Eagle collection. In 2005, there were 468,636 Proof Coins manufactured; however, only 30,125 Silver Proof coins were produced at the West Point Mint. Further, these West Point coins were part of a collectors set of 5 coins: the American Eagle Silver Proof, and the 1 Ounce, 1/2 Ounce, 1/4 Ounce and the 1/10 Ounce American Eagle Gold Proofs (see Special Report 20100712 for more on the American Gold Eagle). These Silver Eagle proof coins can be acquired for an astonishing $3000+ each, depending on the quality of the coin; making this single silver coin more valuable than the sum total value of the other four gold coins in the set combined!

2008 Error Coin aka The 2008 Transitional Variety

In 2008, the US Mint made a few changes to the reverse of the Silver Eagle. These changes were minor in nature. The first change was the addition of a spur to the letter “U” in the Word “United” [States of America]. The previous letter u looked more like an upside down half oval, but in 2008 the decision makers at the US Mint decided to give the letter its textbook configuration, with a full straight line down the right side. The next change was a more precise shape and alignment of the 13 stars on the back of the coin. The new design gave the “upside down triangle” a crisper, sharper look. Finally there was a minor touch up to the hyphen (between the words “Silver” and “One”) on the bottom of the coin. These changes were to be included from 2008 forward. There was just one problem: someone forgot to exchange the old reverse die for the new, so the first 40,000 (or so) Silver Eagles minted in 2008 were minted using the 2007 die!

This variety, coined the Transitional Variety (pun intended), is also called the 2008 Silver Eagle Error Coin. Using quality approximations, with 40,000 minted at current production standards, this means there were about 3000 of these coins minted in MS70 condition. These coins retail for approximately $1000, but a buyer can pick up a slabbed MS70 version on eBay for between $650-$900 if they are patient.

2009 and 2010 – Of Special Note

In 2009, the US Mint did not produce any proof or burnished uncirculated coins. Rising precious metal values and a precarious stock-market likely contributed to the desire by investors to acquire significant quantities of the metal for their personal hoards, thus leaving no additional supply for the other “less standard” varieties.

In 2010, the Mint did finally release proof coins, but only near year’s end. With the rising price of Silver, many are hopeful but not certain that the Mint will release proof Silver Eagles in 2011.

American Eagle Silver Coin Measurements

Width: 40.60mm
Thickness: 2.98mm
Weight: 103 grams
Metal Content: 1oz of 0.999 pure silver
Denomination: $1.00
Edge: Reeded

Special Note About Denomination – The US Mint did not want the face value of the coin to ever exceed the actual value of the metal; therefore the stated value on the coin was set at a nominal $1.00

How to Purchase – For Silver Bullion Investors

By the Box

As noted above, the Silver Eagle comes in a green “Monster Box” which contains 25 rolls of 20 uncirculated American Eagle Silver Coins. These 500 coins can be purchased on line (eBay, etc.) for approximately $16,500-17,000 as of December 27, 2010.
By the Tube

For the Bullion investor who does not want to part with $16,500, they can also buy a roll of 20 coins for a more modest $650.

How to Purchase – For the Collector

Individually Hand Picked

For the patient collector who is willing to study, watch and wait, they can acquire the “key date” coins (the 2005W Proof, the 2008 Error/Transitional and to a lesser degree, the 2006 Reverse Proof) at a discount, all the while building the series around these important coins. An intelligent collector knows that it is just as important to buy at the right price as it is to sell at the right price. A coin that can be purchased at even a 10% discount to market value will automatically realize a 10% increase on the annual rate of appreciation.
You have likely just read one of the most complete American Silver Eagle Guides available on the internet today, but it does not contain every fact available about this magnificent coin. A large part of the enjoyment in collecting coins, are the previously unknown discoveries that one makes along the way. I wish you the maximum enjoyment as you build your American Eagle collection and continue to discover the intricate details contained in every troy oz. With its beauty, high metal value, and in some cases scarcity of supply, this remarkable coin has given millions of collectors great pleasure over the years. I hope the American Eagle Silver Coin gives you immense enjoyment as you build your collection.


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