By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek….
With a month to go before the year’s end, we enter the close of the production year for the American Silver Eagle, the most popular silver bullion coin in the global market.
As CoinWeek’s tracking of demand for U.S. Mint products can attest, demand for the coin continues to be very strong. This speaks to a broader market reality.
Physical silver, whether it’s bullion rounds or bullion coins, continues to outperform COMEX spot prices for the metal – at least insofar as small purchases are concerned.The Friday 11-20 NY Comex Spot for Silver closed at $14.11.
The “eBay” spot price for an ounce of silver at the time of writing however ranges from US$15.50 to $20.00 an ounce or more. On eBay, so much depends on presentation and reputation that it’s hardly an ideal venue for determining an exact price.
But the information we gather from online auctions is invaluable for seeing long-term trends. Enough data is out there, for instance, that a meticulous study can reveal structural shifts in the health and the viability of this market segment. Beyond the normal oscillations of price one sees with the rise and fall of metals prices, there is real action taking place in the Silver Eagle market – for both certified and non-certified coins.
Collectors and investors enjoy the series for any number of reasons. The following analysis is geared primarily towards those who are invested in the ups and downs of the certified Silver Eagle market. In this article (the first in a series), we provide market insights on an issue-by-issue basis for Proof and Mint State Silver Eagles from 1986-1989.
This series supplements CoinWeek’s American Silver Eagle Price Guide, which can be found here.
Mint State Year-by-Year Breakdown
At the start of 2015, Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) together had graded a total of 120,906 1986 bullion-strike Silver Eagles. Over the course of the year both services combined to grade an additional 16,435 pieces.
NGC expanded their MS68 population from 488 to 2,533, and their MS69 population from 110,907 to 121,281. The number of NGC-graded MS70s went from 1,345 to 1,403, a rise of 4.13%.
PCGS added 32 examples to their MS68 census. At the start of the year, PCGS had graded 6,458 MS69s; that number is now 9,788. The Newport Beach, California grading service also appears to have ended its prohibition on awarding the MS70 grade for the issue, as the population rose from just three coins to 33. Without much effort, we were able to locate 18 of the 30 newly-made 70s. Fourteen came from one large submission of 1986 Silver Eagles; the remaining four certifications come from four discretely different submissions.
When the population of PCGS-certified MS70 coins sat at three, CoinWeek was uncomfortable assigning a “price range” value to the coin. Now, with the population of 70s increasing by 1,000% between May and November, recent sales of the coin indicate a 70% decline in price from the $22,000 one newly-graded example brought in April at a Great Collections auction.
We see a slight decline in the prices realized for NGC MS70 Silver Eagles on the high end of retail, but on the low end it seems that the $1,000 price point we last reported is holding firm.
For PCGS-graded coins, however, we see structural declines, which at present seem to indicate that 70s from both services are approaching price parity. In our IQ Insights from June, we broke down two submissions that contained the lion’s share of the MS70 population (14 coins out of the 20 in the census). Since that time, PCGS has added an additional seven pieces. The PCGS MS70 population of 1987 Mint State Eagles at the time of writing sits at 27. One of the new pieces is the plate coin on PCGS Coinfacts.
NGC continues to add about five MS70 coins each month. The NGC population of MS70 1987 Mint State Eagles currently sits at 524 pieces.
The total number of coins for the issue certified by PCGS remains low, presumably due to the service’s unwillingness to assign a grade of MS70. To date, only one 1988 American Silver Eagle has met their standard. Compare that to the 322 coins that have earned a 70 from NGC. The fact that dealers face thin margins at MS69, regardless of the service, means that NGC’s judgement to assign a perfect grade to the best coins it sees further cements its market advantage from a submission standpoint. Year-to-date, NGC has out graded PCGS for this issue by more than 7,000 coins.
On November 9, an NGC MS69 1988 American Silver Eagle in a black retro slab sold on eBay for $0.99 + $2.54 for postage. Apparently, the seller erroneously listed the coin as a Fixed Price item. Lucky buyer…
In the summer of 2015, PCGS issued its first MS70 grade to a 1989 Mint State Silver Eagle. The coin was sold on June 14 through Great Collections, where it brought $22,000 with buyer’s premium.
Clearly that’s the high end of the price range for that coin, as history and common sense inform us of the likelihood that additional coins will enter the marketplace. Consider also that only 2.2% of the total mintage has been through the certification process. Even if only an additional three or four percent of the mintage is certified, the astronomically high price of the PCGS MS70 is a big target for submitters and crossover specialists.
The price of NGC MS70s saw declines in recent months. On the low end of the price spectrum, we find some pieces selling between $900 and $1,000. High retail for the coin is $1,500-$1,595, with $1,250 more in line with current trends. For the time being, the NGC MS70 population is a few coins shy of 400. That number is up 33 coins year-to-date, or approximately 10% more this year than in 2014.
Proof Year-by-Year Breakdown
Year-to-date, the PCGS population of 1986 PR69DCAM Silver Eagles has increased by 12.6%, while the PCGS PR70DCAM population increased by 30.5%. The percentage of coins graded 70 by PCGS increased from 22% to 25% in 2015. Furthermore, the PCGS ratio of 70s to coins in all grades for the issue dropped from 1:22 to 1:7.74.
PCGS publicizes population numbers for their signature label insert programs but not their myriad other novelty label designs. Since our last population update, PCGS added 939 John Mercanti signature label PR69DCAM coins, 10 Ed Moy label PR69DCAM coins, and 123 Michael “Miles” Standish label PR69DCAM coins.
In PR70DCAM, PCGS added 375 Mercanti label PR70DCAM coins, 10 Moy label PR70DCAM coins, and three Michael “Miles” Standish label PR70DCAM coins.
Note: Standish now works for NGC.
Florida-based NGC kept pace with 69 coins entering the market and 2,049 graded Year-to-Date. NGC was stingier with 70s, however, adding just 320 (including one signed by former Chief Engraver Elizabeth Jones). The NGC PF70UCAM population is now 1,760, which is 1,231 fewer than the PCGS Proof 70 population of 2,991.
The PCGS population of 1987-S Proof Silver Eagles in 70 outpaced NGC by a factor of 6.82 to 1, despite the fact that NGC’s population census shows that its submission rate of 1987-S Proofs was double that of PCGS. As it stands at the time of writing, the PCGS 70 population now sits at 1,401. NGC has certified 572.
The newfound PCGS inventory has resulted in the coin’s premium reduction by 25% since our last update. The price for NGC 70s has held steady. With fewer of them on the market at any given time, the coin has been less exposed. 69s from both services also saw declines, with PCGS coins in Moy and John Mercanti labels carrying a premium price over the market rate for PCGS standard labels.
PCGS added 88 coins in PR69DCAM with the “Miles Standish [Mint] Director’s Medal of Excellence” label. This label carries no significant premium.
PCGS continued to increase its PR70DCAM census with 287 pieces added in 2015. NGC added 68 pieces, which is why NGC-graded 70s experienced a slight relative increase in average price compared to PCGS, which declined by about 10% over the same period.
PCGS also saw increases in the following labels:
- Mercanti: 54 in PR69DCAM, 76 in PR70DCAM;
- Moy: 10 in PR69DCAM, six in PR70DCAM;
- Standish: 89 in PR69DCAM, 13 in PR70DCAM
The 1989-S remains the cheapest Proof Silver Eagle from the 1980s for coins in the 70 grade.
PCGS PR69DCAMs have declined in price by 20% since June; PR70DCAMs have declined by 10%. Accounting for some of this is the fact that the ratio of PCGS 70s to coins in all grades for the issue has increased dramatically, from 1:17 coins at the start of the year to its current level of 1:6.54.
NGC saw a modest increase of 4% in Proof 70s.
In January, PCGS certified 44 PR70DCAM 1989-S Eagles with Mercanti labels. By June, that number stood at 100 and is now 179 – an increase of 135 Mercanti “70” labels year-to-date. During the same period, the number of “69” Mercanti labels has increased by just 50.
Fewer Moy coins have been made during the same period: 10 in PR69DCAM have been produced since January, and 13 in PR70DCAM. The total number of Moy “70s” now sits at 42.
22 PR69DCAM Miles Standish labels appeared in the market after our June update. There are no Standish 70s for this date.