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HomeUS Coins1990 American Silver Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1990 American Silver Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1990 American Silver Eagle. Image: CoinWeek.
1990 American Silver Eagle. Image: CoinWeek.

The 1990 American Silver Eagle saw a slight production increase over the 1988 and 1989 year-end totals. With a mintage of 5,840,110 pieces, the 1990 doesn’t stand out from the rest of the ’80s and ’90s issues in terms of overall scarcity, but it did once enjoy some notoriety for being a difficult issue to acquire in Mint State 70. Does that continue to be the case?

The total certified population of the 1990 Silver Eagle now sits at 121,799 pieces, with 2.12% of the total mintage now having been placed in certified holders. This tally is up significantly from the 89,066 figure we reported in 2014. Over the course of the past 10 years, the grading services have combined to grade an average of 3,273 coins per year.

The Collapse of the 1990 American Silver Eagle MS-70 Market

In January 2024, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded American Silver Eagle in MS-70 for $3,362.62 USD. The year before, that company sold seven PCGS-graded coins in the same grade, along with two graded by NGC at 70. The average price realized for all of these coins was just under $2,800. During the same period, Heritage Auctions offered seven MS-70s, most graded by NGC. The standout was a fully-mirrored example graded NGC MS-70* that brought $7,500 in January. Other than that coin, the remainder fell in line with what we saw at GreatCollections.

These prices indicate that the market for the 1990 American Silver Eagle still has strength, but at its current levels, it is no longer has the level of condition rarity that it enjoyed 10 years ago when the coin was a PCGS Pop 1 and an NGC pop 183.

Let’s go back in time and take a look at the sale of that coin in the context of the Silver Eagle market in 2015/2016.

As a pop 1 coin, the then-solitary PCGS MS-70 1990 American Silver Eagle graded sold at Heritage Auction’s January 6, 2016 US Coins Signature Auction, where it brought $12,925. At the time of its offering, CoinWeek had already reported extensively about the downward price movement of several other early-date American Silver Eagle bullion coins graded MS-70 by PCGS.

One of those coins, the 1986 Silver Eagle, saw its population balloon from three coins to 31 over the course of just one year. At the time, this burst of newly-minted coins had no historic precedent, given the fact that PCGS has been in business for nearly 30 years, and has been actively grading Silver Eagles for nearly half that time.

In our 2016 auction preview, we wrote:

It’s not a given that the same thing will happen to the 1990, but the fact is that it can happen.

In February 2024, we can report that it did happen. Since the January 2016 Heritage sale, PCGS has seen increases to its census of 1990 American Silver Eagles by an average of 20 to 21 coins per calendar year. As of this writing, the PCGS MS-70 population of the 1990 bullion strike stands at 183 pieces. In another 10 years, it is likely to surpass 400. Simply put, the 1990 American Silver Eagle has gone from a PCGS condition rarity, to a condition scarcity, and, at some point, will likely become conditionally uncommon. How long will the $2,800 price average be supported?

Another interesting area of the certified 1990 American Silver Eagle market is the growing population of “First Strike” coins.

In 2015, sky-high prices whenever PCGS “First Strike” coins from this issue came to market. The reason for this scarcity was that the 1990 Silver Eagles were released more than a decade before the launch of the First Strike program. The service did qualify certain United States Mint products for the First Strike label if they were submitted in sealed Mint packaging with proof that the coins were delivered within 30 days of release. Ten years ago, the population of First Strike 1990 ASEs sat at 37 in MS-69 with none finer. Today, PCGS reports 1,016 First Strikes with 517 in MS-68, 377 in MS-69, and 48 in MS-70. Frankly, we are happy that the pops reflect the entire reality of the submission and that a small number of MS-66 and MS-67 coins were graded, along with the MS-68s. These grades are unusual for the series as submitters can specify a minimum grade and usually set it at MS-69.

NGC Continues to Dominate in Silver Eagle Submissions while Grading Conservatively

NGC holds the dominant market position when it comes to the total number of coins certified in the American Silver Eagle series. This is true for all dates. At the time of writing (2/15/2024), NGC reports 110,474 coins in MS-69 and 610 coins in MS-70. While 610 coins is considerably higher than 183 at PCGS, or three at CAC Grading, the percentage of coins graded 70 by NGC is a staggeringly low 0.5%. Over the course of the past decade, however, the success rate at NGC has trended upwards. Compare the 0.2% MS-70 population after 80,000 coins were graded (through 2015) with the 1.4% success rate that submitters have enjoyed from the past 30,000 coins graded. During the same period, the PCGS success rate stands at 4.4%.

Too Soon to Evaluate CAC Grading Data

CAC Grading will make an impact on the modern coin market in due time. The company had a soft launch in the spring of 2023 as it transitioned from a stickering service that focused primarily on classic U.S. coins to a full-service U.S. coin grading business. Reports from well-placed CAC insiders suggest that the CAC populations reflect trial and error on the part of submitters and that many of the older date Eagles have been submitted for crossover from NGC or PCGS.

To date, the 1990 American Silver Eagle has not been a major focus for CAC’s dealer-submitters, as only six coins have been certified: three in MS-69 and three in MS-70.

Design

Obverse:

Adolph A. Weinman’s Lady Liberty is depicted mid-stride. She is seen as a full-body figure, dressed in a flowing gown, and draped with a large billowing American flag. She holds laurel and oak branches in her left hand that symbolize the civil and military glories of America, respectively. As Liberty strides confidently towards the rising sun, she also reaches out and presents a welcoming and open hand. So large is Lady Liberty that she is superimposed over the obverse legend LIBERTY ringing the obverse – in fact, she obscures half of the “BE” and almost the entire “R”. Above Liberty’s outstretched rear foot is IN GOD WE TRUST, and below her is the date (1990).

The design bears a notable resemblance to sculptor Oscar Roty’s The Sower, a common image on French coins. Numismatist Roger Burdette posited in his book Renaissance of American Coinage (2007) that this was not a coincidence and while Adolph Weinman did not directly copy, he did derive significant inspiration from Roty’s work. Weinman’s Liberty Walking design quickly became one of America’s most iconic numismatic images and would be used with minor modifications on the American Silver Eagle bullion coin starting in 1986.

Reverse:

United States Mint Chief Engraver John Mercanti’s Heraldic Eagle is positioned at the center of the reverse. Clutched in its beak is a ribbon that bears the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. Above its head, is a constellation of 13 stars configured in an upside-down pyramid formation. Wrapping around the design is the legend (top) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the fineness and denomination (bottom) 1 OZ. FINE SILVER. ONE DOLLAR.

Edge:

The edge of the 1990 American Silver Eagle bullion coin is reeded.

Coin Specifications

American Silver Eagle Bullion Coin
Year Of Issue: 1990
Mintage: 5,840,110
Alloy: 99.9% silver
Weight: 31.1 g
Diameter: 40.6 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer Adolph A. Weinman
REV Designer John M. Mercanti

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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