By Chris Bulfinch for CoinWeek …..
On November 14, 2019, more than 100,000 people queued up online, over the phone, and at the United States Mint’s table at the Whitman Baltimore Expo in anticipation of the noon release of the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle (ASE). Dealers paid convention attendees to stand in line to buy the coins, a number of which had been set aside for sale on the bourse; the line started forming at 2:30 AM. Mint Director David Ryder signed Certificates of Authenticity issued with the silver dollars at the booth.
CoinWeek editor Charles Morgan himself told me that he spent five hours “trying to get his hands on” one of the coins.
Within 20 minutes, prospective online customers received a message indicating that the issue was no longer available.
Despite a small amount of suspicious online traffic (the Mint maintained that none of the suspicious orders were filled), the overwhelming interest in the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof coins underscored the series’ popularity and the intensity of demand for the low-mintage issue. Collector anger at both the quick sellout and prices on the secondary market was palpable. Angry letters appeared in the pages of numismatic publications and online forums from those frustrated at missing this new key date for the collections.
Comparisons to another series key, the well-known 1995-W Proof, appeared quickly after the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof coins were released. Coin writer Jim Bisogani wondered whether the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof would “beat the 1995-W Proof” for the title of the Key Date of the American Silver Eagles series.
But whether or not it ever does, the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof is taking its place among the (lower-case) key dates of the U.S.’ silver bullion series.
Unfortunately, collectors had another reason to express their anger again when the final Type I Proof American Silver Eagle (the 2021-W) sold out within minutes of its release despite its larger mintage (more than 10 times higher than the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof). With the first Type II Silver Eagles featuring Emily Damstra’s design to be released starting in July, a quick sellout seems highly probable.
Neither the Type I nor the Type II 2021 Proof ASE is a key date, given their mintages in the hundreds of thousands, but demand for them has been and likely will be high.
Shortly after the release of the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof ASE, Louis Golino in his CoinWeek column The Coin Analyst interviewed Eric Jordan, author of the 2010 book Modern Commemorative Coins and coauthor of 2012’s Top 50 Most Popular Modern Coins, wherein Jordan shared his perspective that:
“From the start, the Type I Silver Eagle had consistently large mintages that did not offer key-date mintages low enough to produce the kind of key date to common date mintage differentials needed to produce a meaningful collectible.”
He argued that the 1995-W ASE was a game-changer in this regard with its mintage of just 30,125.
A number of other dates in the series have comparably low mintages and collectors pursue with similar energy. Some key dates were commemorative issues marking series’ anniversaries, while others are condition rarities, exceptional examples from (relatively) large mintages. An unusual finish with a small mintage defined the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof.
Other key dates include the 1994-P and 1999-P in MS-70, and 2000 Millennium coins (especially those that grade MS-70).
The coins on this list have three different finishes: bullion strike, Proof, and Enhanced Reverse Proof. Each coin’s finish will be mentioned in the listing.
1999 Bullion Strike
The first coin on our list is a condition rarity: the bullion strike 1999 ASE. Its certified population includes very few coins graded MS-70.
7,408,640 bullion strike ASEs were struck in 1999, a fairly large mintage, but MS-70 examples are “surprisingly rare certified in MS-70, with examples trading for substantial amounts at auction” according to the third edition of American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program. Only 38 of more than 11,000 examples of the date certified by PCGS have the “perfect” grade, MS-70; in 2019, 11 examples had received that grade.
Most bullion strike dates in the series have far more examples certified MS-70.
The number of ASEs certified MS-70 by PCGS jumps dramatically with coins dated 2002 and after. Before 2002, the largest MS-70 population was 387 (the date was 2001). After 2002, only two dates had certified populations of MS-70 coins lower than 2,000.
NGC’s certified populations are similar, with 359 1999 ASEs graded MS-70. Its populations of coins certified MS-70 jumps at the same time.
Several other dates in the 1990s have small populations of coins certified MS-70. 1990, 1993, 1998, and 1999 (the last of which is included on this list) have MS-70; populations under 100 from PCGS.
The record auction price for a 1999 ASE graded MS-70, $33,110 USD, was realized in a December 29, 2013, GreatCollections auction.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the American Eagle bullion program in 1995 (the authorizing legislation was signed into law in 1985, the first coins being issued in 1986), the Mint issued a commemorative set of the gold and silver American Eagle bullion coins, including a Proof version of the ASE struck at the West Point Mint, the first ASE bearing the facility’s “W” mint mark. Proof production shifted from the Philadelphia to West Point Mint facilities in 2001. The mintage was tied to the number of sets sold, and partly because the sets were priced at $999, only 30,125 sets (of an authorized 45,000) with the 1995-W Proof American Silver Eagles were sold.
The series’ key date was born.
Other key date ASEs are often compared to the 1995-W Proof. A 1995-W Proof ASE graded PF-70DCAM fetched the record price paid for an ASE, $86,655, in a GreatCollections auction on March 31, 2013. This is not a realistic value for any 1995-W Proof ASE.
At the time of the record-breaking sale in 2013, only eight 1995-W ASEs were certified PF-70DCAM by PCGS; by 2017, that population had grown to 210. In 2018, it stood at 381, 413 in 2019. Today, 424 of the coins are certified PF-70DCAM.
The 2013 sale made headlines in numismatic publications, which may have contributed to the spike in submissions. The growth of the certified population drove prices down; typical auction results since roughly 2017 range from $9,000 to $13,000 for examples graded PF-70.
CoinWeek editor Charles Morgan described the 1995-W Proof ASE that sold for $86,655 as a “burial coin” in a 2015 video.
In 2000, the U.S. Mint authorized 75,000 United States Millennium Coin and Currency Sets marking the beginning of the new millennium, which included ASEs struck at the West Point Mint – the only 200-dated ASEs identifiable as products of the West Point facility. Bullion strike ASEs were also struck at Philadelphia; mint marks were not applied to the ASEs struck at either facility.
Third-party grading services would only certify the coins as Millennium issue if the sets’ packaging was submitted with the coins and/or note.
Auction prices for the Millennium Set ASEs stay below $100 in grades lower than MS-69. In MS-70, values jump dramatically, often selling for between $7,000 and $12,000. Only 90 examples are certified MS-70 by PCGS, while more than 11,000 are certified MS-69.
The record auction price for a 2000 ASE was set on November 3, 2013, when an example graded MS-70 by PCGS sold for $29,375 in a Heritage auction.
1994’s American Silver Eagle has the second-lowest bullion strike mintage of the series and the date is a condition rarity in MS-70; it has the lowest MS-70 population of any bullion strike ASE from PCGS.
The third edition of American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program (abbreviated American Silver Eagles from here) describes the 1994 bullion strike as “one of the tougher dates to find in very nice quality.” “MS-70 remains the most elusive of grades” for the date. PCGS has only certified 28 of the 1994 bullion strike coins MS-70; NGC has certified 369. In 2016, PCGS had only graded two examples in that grade.
Record auction price: $11,163 MS-70 Nov. 1, 2013, Heritage Auctions. Another example sold for $11,162.50 in September of 2016; the listing claims “No one could have predicted how successful the American Silver Eagles have become in the 30 years since their debut.”
2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof
After its controversial, high-profile debut, the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof (ERP) ASE continued grabbing headlines, selling for eye-catching sums on the secondary market. Weeks after its release, an example with a signed Certificate of Authenticity sold for more than $14,000 dollars. Its mintage was capped at 30,000, the smallest of the series.
San Francisco was not the only Mint facility to strike ERP ASEs in 2019. Coins with the same finish struck at the West Point Mint were issued in the Pride of Two Nations set, a numismatic product issued jointly with the Royal Canadian Mint. 110,000 were struck in total (split between sets issued by the U.S. and Canada), a mintage more than three times higher than their counterparts from San Francisco.
Though a household ordering limit of one coin was applied (attendees at the Baltimore Expo could also buy only a single coin), many dealers and online sellers offered examples for many times their issue price. Collectors angered by the quick sellout and high secondary market prices alleged preferential treatment of dealers by the Mint and expressed their displeasure.
Recent auction prices sit between $1,500 and $2,500, clustering around $2,000.
2020-W Proof V75 Privy Mark
Another commemorative ASE was issued in 2020, differentiated from regular 2020-W Proof coins only by a privy mark, added to the coins to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The privy mark consists of the characters “V75” inscribed within an incuse cartouche shaped like the National World War II Memorial. These privy marks were also added to America the Beautiful quarters struck at the West Point Mint.
With a mintage limited to 75,000 and priced at $83 with a household ordering limit of one coin, the privy-marked ASEs sold out almost immediately when they were released on November 5, 2020. Collector anger was again palpable.
Certified examples quickly appeared on the market, fetching prices over $1,000. The market has softened somewhat, with typical examples in PF-69DCAM selling for between $300 and $450 and PF-70DCAM between $650 and $750.
With Damstra’s new design for the ASE will likely come different finishes and commemorative issues in the years ahead, some of which will have low mintages or be hard to find in certain grades. The Covid-19 pandemic pressed the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints into service producing bullion strike versions of Mercanti’s last two ASEs with mintages smaller than most bullion strike dates, which might become sought-after additions to people’s ASE sets. Will future crises create rarities? Will some forthcoming issues be weakly struck, creating condition rarities?
In 2006, the Mint struck the first ASEs with a Reverse Proof finish to mark the series’ 20th anniversary. In 2016, the series’ 30th anniversary was commemorated with the application of edge lettering to all ASEs struck for collectors (i.e. not bullion strikes) – will the 40th anniversary in 2026 be commemorated in some way? If Damstra’s design remains in use as long as Mercanti’s, Type II ASEs will still be in production in 2045, the centennial of the end of World War II; privy marks could become a consistent feature, used to commemorate major milestones, whether in the life of the series or the country. Though collectors seem to be tiring of “manufactured rarities”, if the Mint limits mintages for commemorative ASE issues (as it did in 2020 with the v75 privy marks), then the coins will become key dates. Emerging minting technologies will allow the Mint to apply different finishes as they did in 2006 and 2019.
Towards the end of his 2019 interview with Golino, Eric Jordan said that “the Type I Silver Eagle, unlike some of the older series, can be completed by mere mortals and probably has a bright future. If you like moderns, start picking up the better date Silver Eagles with sub-150,000 mintages while they are still looking for permanent homes because that’s nothing in a sea of over half a billion coins.”
Four of the entries on this list meet Jordan’s criteria for a low mintage Type I ASE, while the other two are condition rarities, with vanishingly small numbers certified MS-70. If the Mint repeats policies of the past, limiting mintages of certain issues, then new key dates will be created. Condition rarities will be discovered as the coins are released and discerning collectors and third-part grading services begin assessing large groups of the new coins.