By Jack McNamara for CoinWeek ……
On October 29, 1986, the first American Silver Eagle (ASE) was struck at the United States Mint and coin collecting was forever changed. President Ronald Reagan authorized the creation of the American Silver Eagle with the Liberty Coin Act (PDF link), which allowed the U.S. Mint to utilize the National Defense Stockpile to issue silver coinage thus minting these coins to Americans in .999 fine silver.
While the American Silver Eagle series was viewed strictly as a bullion coin series at its onset, the perception of the iconic series has changed in recent years. Over time, this series has flourished and is widely accepted for its beauty, history, and numismatic value.
This is most apparent when looking at the pricing of coins through the years.
Originally, in 1986, Proof American Silver Eagles were sold for $21 at the US Mint. Most recently, this price has increased to $73 in 2022. These prices, however, are for coins that are ungraded and offer no guarantee for their condition. Prices increase when a coin is graded by a third-party grading service – especially when it is preserved in perfect Proof 70 Ultra Cameo condition.
When looking at a full set of coins graded in perfect condition by one of the major third-party grading services–Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) or Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS)–a full set of Proof ASEs can cost between $10,000 and $20,000! Upon inspection of the Mint State series, this is even more apparent, with complete sets of Mint State 70 coins bringing close to $70,000 now!
But collecting a set of stunning American Silver Eagles doesn’t have to cost tens of thousands of dollars. Over the years, several special issues have been struck, but they often go under the radar of collectors. To shed some light on these iconic and underrated coins, I have put together this list of American Silver Eagles you may have missed through the years but are still obtainable by collectors today.
While the first West Point Mint American Silver Eagle was technically the 1995-W, it wasn’t until 2001 that West Point started producing annual ASE issues. As the 1995-W is so difficult to acquire, the 2001-W is a great example as the first annual issue of the W mint mark series. First-year and last-year issues are usually more desirable to collectors over time and this first-year coin is available.
Struck for the 20th anniversary of the American Silver Eagle, the 2006-W Burnished ASE was a gamechanger for the series. As the first Burnished American Silver Eagle, the 2006-W introduced a new finish to collectors. Silver Eagles are typically struck either as bullion issues or Proof issues, but the Burnished series strikes a balance between both. The planchets of Burnished ASEs have been polished prior to striking, giving them a unique satiny finish unlike standard American Silver Eagles, but they are not struck multiple times like Proofs. The Burnished issues bear a mint mark, which is the most obvious difference from the Uncirculated or bullion issues.
Known for having much lower mintages than their standard counterparts, Burnished ASEs have produced some of the lowest mintages–including the 2006-W Burnished ASE, with only 468,020 examples struck.
Continuing the burnished American Silver Eagle trend, 2011 marked the first year that a Burnished ASE was struck at the San Francisco Mint. With only 99,882 examples struck, the 2011-S Burnished ASE has the lowest Burnished mintage of the ASE series.
2012-S Reverse Proof
When the first Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle was released in 2006, it was seen as a one-off striking. Then, five years later, the second Reverse Proof issue was minted, creating a new sensation. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the first and only Reverse Proof ASE was struck at the San Francisco Mint. Released in a set with a 2012-S Proof to honor the 75th Anniversary of the current San Francisco Mint, and with a mintage of only 224,981, this coin quickly became a sleeper hit with fans of the Golden Gate City.
2016-W Proof and 2016-W Burnished
In a stunning display of numismatic design, the 2016-W Proof and Burnished issues featured a lettered edge design which reads, “30th ANNIVERSARY”. While the 2016-W proof has an incredibly minuscule mintage of only 651,467 examples, the Burnished variety once again has a lower number with just 237,753 examples. While the 30th Anniversary 2016-W Proof and Burnished issues can hardly be called “underrated”, the first American Silver Eagle issues to showcase the lettered edge design are not ones to be forgotten.
2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof
In 2019, the U.S. Mint released an American Silver Eagle with a lower mintage than even the key date 1995-W ASE.
With only 29,909 examples struck, the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle is now the absolute rarest ASE. The enhanced reverse finish highlights certain parts of the design, such as the folds in Lady Liberty’s dress, which is not possible with a standard Proof finish. These advanced finishes are only possible due to modern computer-guided laser techniques bringing out nuances of the original design.
2019-W Enhanced Reverse Proof
The 2019-W Enhanced Reverse Proof ASE shows the same finish as the 2019-S, however, it displays a W mintmark and has a higher mintage at 99,675 coins. Although this is three times as high as its 2019-S counterpart, it is still an overall very low mintage for the series. As such it is a great, more affordable alternative to the 2019-S. This unique coin was sold as part of the limited production Pride of Two Nations set, which is the first collaborative effort between the US Mint and the Royal Canadian Mint.
2020-(S) Uncirculated Emergency Production
Uncirculated American Silver Eagles are struck without a mint mark, meaning that no one would be unable to tell from which branch mint it was struck at without additional information. Since 2011, the San Francisco Mint has joined the West Point Mint in striking a number of Uncirculated ASEs. Beginning in 2001, the West Point Mint took over responsibility for the production of a majority of the American Silver Eagle series.
To keep up with demand for the ASE during the ongoing pandemic, the mintage of 2020 American Silver Eagles had been split between the West Point, San Francisco, and Philadelphia Mints. With only one million coins struck at San Francisco, these 2020-(S) Emergency Production ASEs are true numismatic rarities. Grading services only place these exclusive ASEs in the “Emergency Production” holders if the serial numbers on the “monster” boxes indicate they are from the San Francisco Mint.
2020-W WWII 75th Anniversary with “V75” Privy Mark
In a first for the American Silver Eagle series, a minuscule 75,000 Proof examples were struck last year with the “V75” privy mark. Designed to honor the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, the privy mark was an instant hit with collectors. A privy mark is a small addition to an already existing design that marks it as special and new. While this issue was incredibly popular, as the first American Silver Eagle with a privy mark it should not be forgotten as time goes on.
2021-W Type 2
For the first time in the entire ASE series, the reverse of the coin features a new design from acclaimed numismatic artist Emily Damstra. This new design, known as the 2021 Type 2 reverse, depicts an American eagle with flared wings and an oak branch in its talons as if returning to fortify its nest. As America’s national tree and a universal symbol of strength, the oak branch in this depiction represents a reinforcement of American values through the strengthening of the home.
Future design changes for the American Silver Eagle are unknown but it is likely this extremely popular, new Landing Eagle design will continue to be struck for decades to come. With advancements to mint technology rapidly changing and new artists joining the U.S. Mint every day, who knows what upcoming ASE issues will look like and what other underrated ASEs we may see in the future?
* * *
A third-generation professional numismatist, Jack McNamara is a co-founder of Rare Collectibles TV in Torrance, California and co-author of a new coin collecting reference book, 2021 Numismatic Hall of Fame.