When it comes to buying silver from the United States Mint, the American Silver Eagle coin is the top choice of investors and collectors alike. The Liberty Coin Act of 1985 authorized the production of an official silver bullion coin for the US, and by November 1986 the bullion and proof versions of the American Silver Eagle were available for sale from the United States Mint. Learn all about this beautiful coin series and its many variants now!
The first American Silver Eagle coins from the United States Mint were issued with 1986 date marks on the obverse side of the coin. The Silver Eagle program consists only of a 1 Troy oz silver coin with .999 purity and a face value of $1 (USD) backed by the federal government. The US Mint uses images of Lady Liberty and the American bald eagle on the obverse and reverse sides of the coin, respectively. The designs never change and the only variation in the coins is the use of a mint mark on the reverse side of the proof coins.
American Silver Eagle coinage consists of uncirculated, proof, and burnished options. The uncirculated, or bullion, coin has been available every year since 1986. The proof Silver Eagle was also issued immediately in 1986 with the uncirculated coin. The proof coin did have a production interruption in 2009 as the US Mint was forced to suspend collectible coinage production to redirect all silver blanks to the uncirculated program to meet the intense demand for silver at the time. Burnished coins were introduced as a second collectible option in 2006 on the 20th anniversary of the coin program. The burnished coin was suspended in both 2009 and 2010, but has since entered back into production.
All versions of the American Silver Eagle coin share the same design elements. On the obverse side of the coins, you’ll find Adolph A. Weinman’s historical depiction of Lady Liberty. Created in 1916 for use on the nation’s half-dollar coin, this vision of Liberty depicts her figure in left-profile relief as she walks toward the setting sun on the horizon. She carries the oak and laurel branches in her left arm, holds her right hand outstretched toward the horizon, and wears the American flag over her shoulders. “Liberty” is engraved above her head, with the date mark at her feet. At her heels is the national motto of “In God We Trust.”
On the reverse side of all Silver Eagle coins is the image of the heraldic eagle of the United States. Some version of this design has been used on American coinage since the very first coins were struck by the original Philadelphia Mint in 1794. This particular design is a modern, powerful depiction of the bald eagle with its wings spread wide and the national shield on its chest. The bird clutches the arrows of war in one talon and the olive branch of peace in the other. In its beak is a ribbon with the phrase “E Pluribus Unum,” and above its head is a cluster of 13 stars arranged in a triangle. Each of the stars represents one of the original 13 colonies in America. Engravings on this side include “United States of America” and “1 oz Fine Silver One Dollar.” For the proof and burnished versions of the coin, you’ll also find a mint mark on this side of the coin. There is no mint mark for bullion coinage.
Since 2001, Silver Eagles have been struck by the West Point Mint and feature a “W” mint mark on this side. The burnished coin has only ever been struck by the West Point Mint and always features the “W” mint mark. However, Proof Silver Eagles have been struck by two other mints. From 1986 to 1992, the Proof Silver Eagle was issued with an “S” mint mark from the San Francisco Mint. From 1993 to 2000, the Proof Silver Eagle was issued by the Philadelphia Mint with a “P” mint mark.
The United States Mint has different mintage approaches for the uncirculated, proof, and burnished versions of the coin. Under the guidelines of the Liberty Coin Act of 1985, the US Mint is legally obligated to meet the demand for the uncirculated version of the coin. The bullion American Silver Eagle’s mintage figure is determined entirely by demand for the investment grade coin. The highest mintage figures in the program through its first 20 years came largely from the first two years of availability, but the Great Recession sent the American Silver Eagle soaring higher. The coins peaked in 2015 when 47 million Silver Eagles were issued in a single year.
For the proof and burnished versions of the coin, mintage figures are different. The Proof Silver Eagle originally had mintage caps at times, though it rarely achieved a full sell out in a given year. Eventually, the US Mint abandoned the mintage caps and simply struck the coins to meet the demand from collectors. With that said though, the Proof Silver Eagle has never reached the heights of the uncirculated version of the coin. The highest mintage figure for the Proof American Silver Eagle remains the 1.4 million sold in 1986 when the coin debuted.
As for the burnished version of the American Silver Eagle, it regularly has the lowest mintage figures in the collection. The US Mint doesn’t artificially hold down the mintage, but merely strikes the coin to meet the demand from the collector niche interested in the Burnished Silver Eagle. The burnished coin was popular at first, hitting 612,000 in its second year of availability in 2007. Since its two-year suspension though in 2009-2010, it has not surpassed its highs from 2006-2008.
The uncirculated coin is an investment-grade coin with a slight shine to the finish of the coins, but it otherwise possesses no remarkable visual brilliance. The proof and burnished coins are both collectible options that do have visual brilliance, but they are produced differently and have slightly different visual aspects. The proof coin has frosted, matte elements on the images of Walking Liberty on the obverse and the heraldic eagle on the reverse. The background of the proof coins is mirrored and clear in appearance.
The burnished coins have a slightly different appearance. The coins are first rolled in a drum with a polishing material that burnishes the coin, adding a distinct visual brilliance that is somewhere between that of the bullion coin and the proof coin. Each burnished coin is carefully handled by employees wearing gloves. Each blank is removed from the drum by a gloved hand, individually loaded into the coining press and struck, and then individually removed and packaged immediately to prevent any chance of human skin oils or other elements tarnishing the visual appeal.
Uncirculated, proof, and burnished American Silver Eagle coins can all be certified by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation or Professional Coin Grading Service to authenticate the visual brilliance and overall condition of the coins. The NGC and PCGS both use the Sheldon Scale, a numerical grading scale that runs from 1 to 70, with 70 representing a perfect score. These grading companies look for visual flaws, production flaws, and signs of handling when grading a coin. You’ll typically find American Silver Eagle coins for sale with the following certifications and labels from the two grading houses:
If you’re looking to buy American Silver Eagle coins, JM Bullion has all three versions of the popular coin, including certified options. If you run into issues or have questions, please contact JM Bullion at 800-276-6508. You can also reach out to us online through our live chat and email address features.