Posted on January 18, 2016
The calendar has rolled over to 2016, and for the United States Mint it is time to celebrate a monumental milestone for its most important coin series. The American Eagle, which serves as the official bullion coin of the United States, has been continually produced now for 30 years. The original American Silver Eagle and American Gold Eagle debuted in 1986. As the mint begins releasing its 2016 American Eagles, now’s the time for a closer look at these beloved coins.
The American Gold Eagle remains among the world’s most sought-after gold coins, but the American Silver Eagle is the darling of the United States Mint. From 1986 to 1991, the US Mint sold 44 million American Silver Eagles in total. In 2014 alone, the US Mint set a sales record with 44 million Silver Eagles sold in one year. That record fell again last year as the Mint surged past that mark to sell 47 million Silver Eagles. The American Silver Eagle is, unquestionably, the most popular coin in the world.
In honor of the 30th anniversary of the American Eagle series, the United States Mint is making a change to its proof versions of both the silver and gold coins. All American Eagle coins, regardless of metal content or version, are struck with reeded edges.
For 2016, the use of reeded edges on the coin will continue for the bullion and proof versions of the American Silver Eagle and American Gold Eagle. However, to mark the 30th anniversary, both a special Proof and the Burnished American Silver Eagle and American Gold Eagle will have a smooth edge, and special lettering will be added to recognize the 30th anniversary celebration. Specific wording is not available yet as the US Mint continues to test specially designed tools and minting processes for the new edge lettering technique. The US Mint does expect to have the 30th anniversary coins available by Summer 2016.
Both the American Silver Eagle and the American Gold Eagle coin were introduced through Congressional legislation. The American Silver Eagle came into being with passage of the Liberty Coin Act of 1985, while the American Gold Eagle was authorized with passage of the Gold Bullion Coin Act of 1985.
Congress has the authority to set the face value of American currency and bestow legal-tender status on coinage produced by the United States Mint. This was outlined in the details of both bills, as was the stipulation that both coins be struck using only silver and gold sourced from within the United States.
For the American Silver Eagle, the original source of silver was the Defense National Stockpile. A 2002 extension of the Silver Eagle gave the Treasury Department a mandate to purchase additional stores of silver on the private market to ensure the continued production of the American Silver Eagle.
Today, the American Eagle is actually available in three different precious metals: silver, gold, and platinum. However, the platinum coin was added to the series in the late 1990s, so it is not part of the official 30th anniversary of the series.
American Silver Eagle coins have not changed since introduction in 1986. A bullion and proof version of the coin were struck that first year at the San Francisco Mint, with just a 1 oz. coin available for investors and collectors to purchase.
The American Gold Eagle has had a slightly different path. Like the American Silver Eagle, it was immediately available in bullion and proof with a 1 oz coin serving as the standard (and in many cases preferred) weight. However, the American Gold Eagle debuted with three fractional-weight coins available as well, weighing 1/2 oz, 1/4 oz, and 1/10 oz.
Those fractional weights were only available in 1986 for the bullion version of the coin though. In 1987, the Mint released the 1/2 oz coin in proof, and followed that up with the 1/4 oz and 1/10 oz coins in 1988.
Today, both the American Silver Eagle and American Gold Eagle have a third version available. The burnished (or uncirculated) coin was unveiled in 2006 as part of the 20th anniversary of the American Eagle program.
The American Silver Eagle is struck on an annual basis in .999 fine silver, and each coin was designated by Congress to carry a face value of $1 (USD). American Gold Eagle coins feature 22-karat gold in their minting and each carries a face value that correlates to its overall weight. The face values are as follows:
American Gold Eagle coins represented a shift in US Mint production when they were introduced. In 1834, the US Mint abandoned the use of 22-karat gold (.9167 purity) in the production of its gold coins. Even with an influx of gold following multiple gold rushes in South Carolina, Georgia, and famously in California, the Mint set a new purity level of .900 for all gold coins.
This standard for gold coin production continued through the 20th century until the American Gold Eagle coin was introduced. When it was unveiled, it was the purest gold coin available from the US Mint.
The American Silver Eagle was originally struck at the San Francisco Mint for both bullion and proof. The bullion coins were struck there until 1998, shifted to the Philadelphia Mint for 1999 and 2000, and settled at the West Point Mint from 2001 onward. The proof version was struck at San Francisco until 1992, moved to Philadelphia from 1993 to 2000, and also settled at West Point from 2001 onward.
American Gold Eagle coins were struck in bullion at the West Point Mint from 1986 onward. The proof version was originally struck at the Philadelphia Mint from 1987 to 1993, and shifted to West Point in 1994, where production continues through till today.