United States 1986 American Silver Eagle Bullion Coin

PCGS MS-69
$70 – $75▲

Annual Rate of Return Since 2014: 3.8%

PCGS POP MS-69: 21,697

Population Growth Since 2014: 111.4%

(MS69 Population in 2014: 9,788)

NGC MS-69
$70 – $75▲

Annual Rate of Return Since 2014: 4.7%

NGC POP MS-69: 184,600

Population Growth Since 2014: 63.8%

(MS69 Population in 2014: 112,670)


PCGS MS-70
$650 – $700▼

Annual Rate of Return Since 2014: -22.75%

PCGS POP MS-70: 1,402

Population Growth Since 2014: 4,148.5%

(2014: pop 33)

NGC MS-70
$950 – $1,000

Annual Rate of Return Since 2014: 0%

NGC POP MS-70: 4,280

Population Growth Since 2014: 211%

(2014: pop 1,376)

 

Designation:
 

Key – Semi Key – Common

 

* * *

Authorized on July 9, 1985, by the Liberty Coin Act (Public Law 99-61), American Silver Eagles were first minted and sold in 1986. Each weighs 1.000 troy ounces and is struck from .999 fine silver — the highest purity for any silver coin manufactured by the United States Mint.

The American Silver Eagle, perhaps the most popular collectible coin program in modern history, was born out of Congress’ desire to dispose of the federal government’s massive silver stockpile, which at the time exceeded 139 million ounces.[1] The Liberty Coin Act called for the Mint to strike .999 fine silver coins measuring 40.6 millimeters in diameter and weighing 31.103 grams. The coin was to feature a design “symbolic of Liberty on the obverse side; and… of an eagle on the reverse side…”[2]

John Mercanti, the former Chief Engraver of the United States Mint and designer of the American Silver Eagle reverse, says in his 2012 book American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program that the coin’s obverse design (featuring Adolph Weinman’s “Walking Liberty”) was predetermined – although he didn’t know by whom – and that a series of technical challenges regarding the design had to be overcome before the coin could enter into production.[3] CoinWeek contributor Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez’s upcoming book for Whitman will likely shed some new light on the design process.

When the coin was finally ready, 1986 was almost over. The first coins struck didn’t roll off the press until the Secretary of the Treasury James Baker initiated Coin Press 105 at the United States Assay Office in San Francisco at a striking ceremony for the coin held on October 29, 1986.[4] A number of coins were struck for and by VIPs in attendance.

1986-dated Eagles came in two finishes: a bullion strike, which bore no mintmark but was produced exclusively at the San Francisco Mint (a fact the numismatic community did not know until a 2020 FOIA request was fulfilled by the government, leading to a lengthy Coin World feature article by veteran journalist Paul Gilkes); and a Proof issue, which was struck exclusively at San Francisco and bore an ‘S’ mintmark.

As a first-year issue, the 1986 bullion strike is usually offered at a 15-30% premium over generic issues. Generally speaking, buyer behavior justifies this approach, as the collector market for this coin is on or near par with the scarcer bullion strike issues of 1995 and 1997.

1986 Bullion Sales by Month[5]:

November: 1,400,000 | December: 3,696,000

CoinWeek IQ Analysis

Updated 9/28/22

As a first-year issue, the 1986 Mint State and Proof American Silver Eagle coins hold special significance to collectors. As an investment coin, however, the mintage of 5,393,005 should remind the over-enthusiastic that this will never be a scarce issue. Pay a couple of dollars “numismatic premium” over spot for raw examples that come especially nice. Otherwise, pass.

Certified examples do carry a premium over raw ones and a very interesting story can be told about them.

To understand today’s pricing levels we must first take a step back and look at the certified Silver Eagle scene of 2013-2015.

Through the end of 2013, PCGS and NGC treated the 1986 American Silver Eagle (as well as other 1980s and early ’90s issues) differently. NGC owned a lion’s share of the market and represented in their census report, bullion strikes in the grades MS69 and MS70. Some dates were tougher than others, but no dates were prohibitively rare. PCGS took a different approach. While PCGS’ submission numbers for American Silver Eagles were lower, there were some dates where MS69 was the highest grade that submitters could reasonably expect to earn. So stingy was PCGS’s policy pertaining to certifying MS70s that there were dates that had no MS70 coins, and others with MS70 populations in the single digits.

1986 was one of those dates, and for a time, the PCGS population of MS70 coins sat at just three.

In February 2013, Heritage Auctions sold one of those three PCGS MS70 coins for the brain-cracking sum of $21,150. In the NGC white core holder, with a population of just over 1,200, the same coin would sell for about $775. The Heritage sale was not an outlier. Two years later, with the population still at three, GreatCollections sold another 1986 PCGS MS70 coin for $22,000.

Then something changed. In the summer of 2015, PCGS certified 30 Silver Eagles dated 1986 as MS70. The price level dropped to $5,000.

An insider bulk submitter told us on background at the time that the company was now giving out grades that it previously wouldn’t and that this led to their company increasing the number of bulk submissions that it would give PCGS. This is not to suggest the PCGS had told him that they would grade coins looser, just that his recent Monster Box submissions were netting a handful of valuable MS70 coins.

The 1986 Silver Eagle wasn’t the only conditional rarity date to see the impact of this seeming shift in direction.

While the service has never explicitly stated that it would not grade American Silver Eagles at 70, we believe that the milk spotting issue may have played a major factor in the company’s dearth of perfect coins.

We also observed, through cert number analysis, that several of the low-pop 70 issues saw the 70-graded coins come in groupings from a handful of submissions. For one date, half of all of the 70s came from one monster box and every coin in that monster box was represented after CoinWeek conducted a sequential cert number analysis.

Moving ahead to the present day, we see that PCGS MS70 Silver Eagles from 1986 have advanced to the point where NGC was in the fall of 2014. Current pop data published on PCGS CoinFacts shows 1,396 MS70s – a number that fluctuated down and back up literally while we were writing this. CoinWeek’s market research puts the pricing level of these coins at between $650 and $700.

While we’re not in the habit of patting ourselves on the back when it comes to coin market analysis, we did predict a collapse in the 1986 MS70 price after the 2013 Heritage sale, writing, “Safer money could be probably be ‘invested’ elsewhere.” We held firm to that belief even when, in April 2015, GreatCollections sold another example for $22,000. We said the same thing about the record-breaking 1995-W American Silver Eagle, which we called a “burial coin” (the owner would be “buried” in it at that level).

Now that we see a sustainable yield for MS69 and MS70 coins from both services, we feel that the price levels will level out. NGC maintains a clear lead on the number of submissions, due in large part to long-term relationships they have developed with major submitters of modern bullion material. Our current pricing model puts NGC MS70s at a higher level through September 2022. We believe the differential between the two brands is illusory and that they should trade for about par, as is the case with the 69-graded coins.

Note: Since the 2020 disclosure that all uncirculated strike American Silver Eagles were struck at the San Francisco Mint, the grading services have allowed submitters to market coins with the parenthetic “(S)” or Struck at West Point Mint labels. Coins in those holders are no different than the rest of the certified population. They do not warrant a special premium for the notation.

Counterfeit Alert:

On April 25, 2015, a counterfeit MS70 (Cert 7004559) traded on eBay for $4,800.

Total Certified Population: 211,979

Original Mintage: 5,393,005

 Total Certified 69/70 from Original Mintage: 3.93%


Certified Population By Grading Service

PCGS

10.9% (5.72% in 2014)
PCGS 69: 10.2% (5.72% in 2014)
PCGS 70: 0.007% (.002 % in 2014)

NGC

82.1 % (92.84% in 2014)
NGC 69: 87.1% (91 % in 2014)
NGC 70: 2% (1.1% in 2014)


Ratio of Grade Distribution

PCGS

69/70 Ratio:  15.48 to 1

(2014: 2,215 To 1)

NGC

69/70 Ratio: 43.13 to 1

(2014: 79 To 1)


Price Premium for 70 Graded Coins

PCGS

9.33 x 69 Price

(2014: No Data X 69 Price)

NGC

13.33 x 69 Price

(2014: 12.11 X 69 Price)


TERMINAL POINT: MS-69 *

* The grade at which the retail cost of the coin (raw) PLUS the standard submission fees PLUS S&H exceed the retail value of the certified coin in the secondary market

Insert Labels

An insert label plays a vital role in the buying and selling of certified coins. It is a document that identifies a coin’s year of issue, its type, the mintmark (if applicable), its variety designation (if applicable), and its denomination. The label also contains the coin’s assigned grade and certification number. Both services also affix each label with a barcode for added security.

Insert labels also serve as marketing tools. Whether limited in nature or widely produced, novelty label insert designs have been developed by the grading services to allow coin marketers to individuate their offerings from previously-certified coins that are already offered in the marketplace.

CoinWeek is attempting to put together a complete PCGS and NGC label insert glossary to serve as a reference tool for collectors.

NGC

Basic Label Designs

 

Novelty Label Designs

 

 

Signature Label Designs

Sequentially Numbered Label Designs

PCGS

Basic Label Designs

 

Novelty Label Designs

Signature Label Designs

 

Help us complete this visual glossary. Email us missing insert label images at [email protected].

* * *

Notes

[1] http://www.gao.gov/products/LCD-79-410. Accessed 1/31/15.

[2] “Liberty Coin Act” (PL 99-61, July 9, 1985). 99th Congress. 99 STAT. 113.

[3] Mercanti, John. American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program. Whitman Publishing, LLC. Atlanta, Georgia. 2012. 24, 29-31.

[4] Rochette, Ed. “Sales Start Slowly for the New Silver Eagle Dollars.” Chicago Sun-Times December 28, 1986.

[5] http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/index.cfm?action=PreciousMetals&type=bullion. Accessed 1/31/15.

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