Because of rising silver prices, silver was removed from circulating dimes and quarters beginning with the 1965 issues. Though Eisenhower dollars and Kennedy half dollars continued to be produced in a clad silver composition until the 1976 Bicentennial year (silver clad half dollars were not produced in the early 1970s), those denominations and the Bicentennial silver clad quarter became primarily collector pieces. The U.S. Mint did not produce another 90% silver coin until the release of the 1982 George Washington commemorative, which marked the 250th anniversary of his birth. That release was followed by other silver commemoratives in the mid-1980s, at the same time U.S. and world demand for citizen ownership of silver and gold was growing. Responding to the production and sale of silver and gold coins by other countries such as Canada and South Africa, Congress authorized the U.S. Mint to begin producing gold and silver bullion coins in 1986.
The U.S. bullion coins became known as “American Eagles” because of the representation of that national symbol on the reverse of the coins. Because of their relatively low price and general availability, Silver Eagles have been extremely popular with the public since the initial 1986 release. Though silver Eagles display a face value of one dollar, the trade value is determined by the current per ounce price of silver, usually many multiples of the face value. Many purchasers of Silver Eagles buy the coins in order to own silver as a supplemental investment. However, the coins have also become a collectible, and many today endeavor to assemble a complete set of the issue, particularly the certified proof coins at the top end of the grading scale.
The obverse of the Silver Eagle is a copy of Adolph A. Weinman’s design for the Liberty Walking half dollar produced from 1916 through 1947. Dominating the center field inside a flat rim, a full-length Liberty wears a long windswept dress, accented with alternating bands of vertical stripes and blank panels, right arm extended with open hand, and left arm cradling a “bouquet” of laurel and oak branches. A wind-rippled American flag is behind Liberty, its end wrapped around her left arm. Liberty walks to the left across a plain, with a rim of mountains at the bottom accented by the sun with a burst of rays. A well-spaced LIBERTY follows along a little more than the top half of the coin inside the rim, with the letters BER partially obscured by the image of Liberty and the flag. IN GOD WE TRUST, two words on each of two lines, is located at the lower right, nearly touching the fabric of Liberty’s gown.
The reverse displays a heraldic eagle with upswept wings and a Union shield across the breast, holding in its beak a flowing banner displaying E PLURIBUS to the left and UNUM to the right. The right claw holds an olive branch, the left a cluster of arrows. Above the eagle are 13 five-point stars, arranged in four rows with five stars at the top, then four, three, and finally one star on the bottom. Near the eagle on the right, below the left claw, are the initials JM for John Mercanti, the reverse designer. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles the top half of the coin inside a flat rim, and 1 OZ. FINE SILVER ~ ONE DOLLAR completes the text circle at the bottom, the two phrases separated by centered dots. Silver Eagles have been minted at San Francisco, Philadelphia, and West Point; S, P, and W mintmarks (mostly on proofs, though also used on the 2006 20th Anniversary bullion sets) are located to the lower left of the eagle’s right claw.
Nearly three million business strike Silver Eagles have been certified to date, ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of coins per date. Most coins grade as near-Gem or finer, and coins graded up to MS68 trade close to bullion prices. MS69 coins are more expensive, though still at modest prices, but MS70 coins for some dates are expensive. Pieces with higher (yet still modest) premiums are 1995; 1996; 2006-W, particularly the 20th Anniversary issues; and the 2008-W Reverse of 2007, to date the most expensive Silver Eagle at grades lower than MS70. First Strike and Early Release coins have modest premiums above regular issues.
Hundreds of thousands of proof Silver Eagles have been certified, and prices are approximately two to four times the bullion value for most issues. Moderately more expensive coins are the 1993 through 1995 and 1997 Philadelphia coins, and 2006-P 20th Anniversary issues. The relatively low mintage 1995-W issue is the highest priced issue to date, expensive at all grades, but very expensive as PR70.
Designer: Obverse, from Adolph A. Weinman’s Liberty Walking half dollar; reverse by John Mercanti
Circulation Mintage: Several million produced each year to the present, with production for some years exceeding 10 million pieces.
Proof Mintage:Generally more than half a million to nearly one million each year to the present, though only 30,125 of the 1995-W issue.
Denomintion: $1.00 (worth more as bullion)
Diameter: ±40.6 mm; reeded edge
Metal content: 99.93% silver, 0.07% copper
Weight: 31.101 grams (1.0 ounce)
Varieties:A few known, including 2006 and later Burnished; 2006-P Reverse Proof, with frosted fields and brilliant devices; and West Point mintmarked 2006 coins in bullion coin sets that marked the 20th anniversary of the Bullion Coinage Program. Some business strike and proof coins are certified as First Strikes or Early Releases, indicating their release early in the Mint distribution process. Most recently, some 2008 Silver Eagles with nominally updated design elements were instead released with the Reverse of 2007, most easily identified by the U (of UNITED) which does not have the right-side downward stroke (sometimes called a serif); the 2008 Reverse does have the downward stroke on the letter U.
Additional Resources :
US Mint: www.usmint.gov
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.