Legend Numismatics

HomeUS Coins1991 American Silver Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1991 American Silver Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1991 American Silver Eagle. Image: CoinWeek.
1991 American Silver Eagle. Image: CoinWeek.

Sales volume for the 1991 American Silver Eagle was sharply higher than for issues from the three preceding years, with the United States Mint reporting sales of 7,191,066 coins. This would stand as the highest mintage of the decade through 1998. In 1999, Silver Eagle bullion coin sales surpassed 7.4 million coins, and in subsequent years it was not unusual for sales to reach eight to 10 million.

For the bullion side of the American Silver Eagle series, the early dates–which encompass 1986 through about 2000–present a markedly different collector market than the later dates. After 2000, investor demand for physical precious metals coins ticked up following the tragedy on 9/11. The financial collapse of 2008 caused sales to increase to record levels. Another factor that cultivates the divide between early issues and more recent ones are the changes in policy at NGC and PCGS that allowed dealers and collectors to submit bullion coins for certification.

The 1991 American Silver Eagle MS-70 Market Has Changed Radically Over the Past Decade

The coin market, like any collectibles market, is often unpredictable. This is true with rare coins, as sometimes a new example of an important issue is discovered in an old piece of furniture or is repatriated from a long-held overseas collection. The truth is, there is no way that any of us can know with absolute certitude how many examples of any given coin actually survive.

The market for modern coins is not as unpredictable as it is for classic coins, but it can be highly volatile. This volatility is plainly present in the American Silver Eagle market, where the certified population of MS-70 coins will continue to rise each year for the foreseeable future.

Ten years ago, CoinWeek conducted a thorough analysis of the certified population of each issue in the American Silver Eagle series, tracking population growth at NGC and PCGS for the grades MS-69 and MS-70. An enormous disparity in the number of coins certified by each service existed, and for the many early dates in the American Silver Eagle series, PCGS reported populations in the single digits with certain dates having no examples certified in the top grade.

An issue with coins developing milk spots after their encapsulation (all evidence pointed to a production issue at the U.S. Mint) caused PCGS to change its policies regarding the MS70 grade for most early American Silver Eagles. A July 10, 2007 Press Release provided collectors with guidance regarding the service’s intention to begin grading the coins “based on their condition at the time of grading, without the probability of future spotting.” In that same press release, PCGS announced that it was investigating the milk spot issue for earlier date Silver Eagles. From 2007 to 2015, this investigation yielded nothing that enticed the company to change its policies regarding the older date issues.

In 2015, the 1991 American Silver Eagle was one of the coins where no PCGS MS-70 coins had every been certified. In 2024, the population now stands at 329, which is roughly 9% of every 1991 Silver Eagles certified by PCGS since 2015. We infer that a change in policy as it pertained to 1991 Silver Eagles primed the pump for new submissions and that the high grading percentage is owed in part to crossovers from NGC. On this issue, we have not reached out to PCGS for comment.

Over the course of the same 10 years, NGC has increased its population of 1991 Silver Eagles by more than 30%. The population of NGC MS-70s has increased from 192 coins to 1,487. The NGC MS70 success rate is roughly 3.3% over this period of time. In the years leading up to 2015, that success rate was only 0.2%

This begs the question, are the grading services seeing better coins, or have the standards been adjusted?

CAC launched a new full-service grading service in 2023. Its population data is still too low to draw any real conclusions. As of February 2024, the service reported 20 coins in MS-69 and 15 coins in MS-70. We understand that dealers have sent the company a number of coins in NGC and PCGS holders as well as raw coins.

What are 1991 American Silver Eagles in MS-69 and MS-70 Worth?

The value of the 1991 American Silver Eagles has held stable for many years, with the typical example graded by NGC or PCGS selling for $40 to $50 retail. If you intend to buy one of these coins, make sure the seller offers a review-return policy in the event that the coin has a milk spot. Most professional dealers will not buy or sell spotted coins, and typically, a well-photographed coin is sufficient for one to make a smart purchasing decision.

The 1991 American Silver Eagle on the left sold in 2009 for $34,500, while the one on the right sold in January 2024 for $1,080. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
The 1991 American Silver Eagle on the left sold in 2009 for $34,500, while the one on the right sold in January 2024 for $1,080. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

The value of the 1991 American Silver Eagles in MS-70 has changed, drastically. With no PCGS coins graded MS-70, the only “perfect” coins on the market were those graded by NGC. It was apparent at the time, that a certain segment of those coins was held in higher regard, with the belief that they may cross at PCGS at some point.

The higher water mark for the issue was the September 11, 2009 Heritage Auctions sale of an NGC MS-70 (#3058138-006) from the Thrift Scot Collection. This coin brought a record price of $34,500, a staggering number. Within a year, additional examples began to appear at auction. One, noted to be covered with milk spots, sold for $3,220 in March 2010. Other examples followed over the course of the next five years, selling for a range of prices from $3,200 to $5,500.

By 2016, a handful of coins had earned the PCGS MS-70 grade. One example, one of four graded at the time (PCGS #81623524) sold for $7,848.50 in August 2016 at GreatCollections. Within a year, PCGS MS-70 coins were bringing half that number, while NGC coins had declined in value to about $1,200.

$1,200 is roughly the current retail price of an MS-70 coin, whether graded by PCGS or NGC. We expect the value of the 1991 American Silver Eagle in MS-70 to continue to decline over time as pop numbers continue to increase. The available inventory of fresh 1991 bullion coins is nowhere near exhausted.

1991 American Silver Eagle in a PCGS 9-11-01 WTC Ground Zero Recovery Label. Image: CoinWeek.
1991 American Silver Eagle in a PCGS 9-11-01 WTC Ground Zero Recovery Label. Image: CoinWeek.

A Note on the PCGS WTC Ground Zero Recovery Label

One will likely see quite a few 1991 Eagles in 9/11 World Trade Center-themed labels being offered by sellers – sometimes for exorbitant prices. The 1991 American Silver Eagle is not the only coin that was encapsulated as part of this promotion, but it is an often encountered date.

A prominent coin wholesaler marketed these coins a few years ago after a quantity of bullion coins were allegedly sourced from vaults located underneath the site of the World Trade Center. These were sold at significant premiums due to their connection to the events of that day and the public’s patriotic sentiment.

While most dealers are unwilling to pay significant premiums for coins solely based on a novelty insert, collectors often will.

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 (1991).

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 1991 American Silver Eagle bullion coin is reeded.

Coin Specifications

American Silver Eagle Bullion Coin
Year Of Issue: 1991
Mintage: 7,191,066
Alloy: 99.9% silver
Weight: 31.1 g
Diameter: 40.6 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer Adolph A. Weinman
REV Designer John M. Mercanti

 

* * *

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

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Park Avenue Numismatics Gold and Silver Bullion

AU Capital Management US gold Coins

NGCX Holders and Grading