By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek …..
The Proof version of the 2020 American Silver Eagle is set for release on January 3, but it won’t be just any year for the popular .999-fine, one-ounce silver United States bullion coin.
The 2020 Silver Eagle will be the last of its kind, with significant changes coming to the coin that originally debuted in 1986 and will celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2021. The American Silver Eagle, bearing Adolph A. Weinman’s vintage 1916 Walking Liberty obverse, will carry a new reverse, replacing the familiar design created by John Mercanti. New security enhancements will also be introduced to protect consumers and investors in an era of sophisticated counterfeits.
Mercanti’s long-running reverse showcases a heraldic eagle with a shield across its breast, an olive branch in its right talon, and a bundle of arrows in its left talon. The eagle grasps in its beak a ribbon emblazoned with the phrase E PLURIBUS UNUM. Above its head floats a triangular glory of 13 stars. Along the top periphery of the reverse is the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, while at the bottom near the rim are the metallic description denoting 1 OZ. FINE SILVER and the denomination ONE DOLLAR. Mintmarks are found just below the olive branch, while Mercanti’s initials “JM” are located below the eagle’s left talon.
2020 American Silver Eagle
The 2020 American Silver Eagle marks the last of the Silver Eagles that may eventually be more broadly recognized as the John Mercanti Heraldic Eagle subtype (1986-2020). The Mercanti Heraldic Eagle subtype debuted with the American Silver Eagle in 1986 and has been left largely unchanged for its 35-year tenure on the coin. With the major facelift coming in 2021, the 2020 American Silver Eagle will hold significance with coin collectors as a last-year coin. Beyond consisting of precious metal, the coin will be of similar importance to collectors as the 1958 Lincoln cent, the 2008 Lincoln Memorial cent, and the 1998 Washington Heraldic Eagle quarter – modern-era coins whose ongoing obverse design types remained essentially the same even after the reverse motifs saw a permanent, more drastic change.
Collectors who want an example of the 2020 American Silver Eagle have plenty of options to buy one. In recent years, the United States Mint has offered several different types of numismatic finishes for each year of the series alongside the usual bullion-finish pieces that in the 1980s and ’90s were originally known as “Uncirculated” specimens. Bullion-finish American Silver Eagles will be released in mid-January and made available to the public through coin dealers authorized by the Mint to sell them. These pieces usually trade for $3 to $5 above spot value in the retail marketplace.
Moving along to a survey of the various numismatic-finish options, there is a wide variety of beautiful pieces slated for release in 2020, including the American Eagle 2020 One Ounce Silver Proof coin minted at West Point. The 2020-W Proof Silver Eagle will be released on January 9, 2020, at 12 noon Eastern Time for the issue price of $64.95 USD. There are no mintage, product, or household ordering limits.
In spring 2020, the U.S. Mint will release the 2020-W One Ounce Silver Uncirculated coin. While officially marketed by the U.S. Mint as “Uncirculated”, these coins are more commonly traded in the secondary market as “Burnished” specimens, so known because the planchets receive a special polishing that gives the finished coin a distinctive matte-like appearance. The first Burnished American Silver Eagle was released in 2006 for the 20th anniversary of the bullion series. A specific release date and pricing are not available as of press time, though the 2019-W Burnished Silver Eagle was released on May 29, 2019, and sold for $46.95.
During the summer, the Mint will unveil the 2020-S One Ounce Silver Proof coin. Struck at the San Francisco Mint, the 2020-S Proof Silver Eagle will mark the second of the conventional Proof American Silver Eagles for the year 2020, alongside those struck at the West Point Mint. As with some of the other 2020 Silver Eagles referenced in this article, the U.S. Mint has neither publicly offered a release date for the 2020-S Proof nor is there an issue price available. However, the 2019-S was released on August 6, 2019, and sold for $55.95. There are no known product or household ordering limits expected. The 2020-S Proof Silver Eagle is also expected to be included in the United States Mint Limited Edition 2020 Silver Proof Set, as has been the case with the inclusion of regular S-mint Silver Eagle Proofs in earlier versions of the limited-edition silver Proof sets.
While there are no other versions of the 2020 American Silver Eagle presently announced, it’s easy to imagine that the Mint may surprise collectors with the release of at least one other numismatic version of the coin. The U.S. Mint has dropped many such late-year products before, such as the extremely popular limited-mintage 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof One Ounce Silver coin; it quickly sold through its product limit of 30,000 pieces in just hours and is now regularly trading for $1,000 and up in the secondary market–an increase of more than 15 times its issue price of $65.95.
New Design, Better Security
Officials with the United States Mint have been understandably tight-lipped about the new design slated to appear in 2021, especially when it comes to the upcoming security enhancements.
Nevertheless, numismatists know that the new Silver Eagle reverse will carry a likeness of an American eagle, as it is required by law. Furthermore, any new, state-of-the-art anti-counterfeiting technologies implemented on the 2021 Silver Eagle will probably be similar to those seen on investment-grade precious-metal coins from other nations that have added security features to its bullion coinage.
Perhaps most notably among these nations is Canada, which over the past few years has added several new security features to its silver and gold Maple Leaf bullion coins, including a fine radial line finish and a micro-engraved laser mark using Bullion DNA anti-counterfeiting technology. Bullion DNA is a visual authentication feature allowing dealers to quickly verify the authenticity of each protected Canadian Maple Leaf. Each of the dies used to strike silver and gold Maple Leafs are stamped with a miniature, textured depiction of a maple leaf as an anti-counterfeiting security mark. These innovative marks are equipped with digital codes that are stored in databases and can be deciphered using a special scanning device.
While Bullion DNA is a proprietary system jointly developed by the Royal Canadian Mint and Signoptic, it’s not unlikely that the United States Mint could apply a similar technique. But whatever new security developments the Mint has in place for the 2021 issue, it will undoubtedly be used on other bullion products like the American Gold Eagle, which will also see its reverse change next year. The original, first issued in 1986, was designed by sculptor Miley Tucker-Frost (née Miley Busiek.
There no such changes currently announced for the American Platinum and Palladium Eagles.
The Mercanti Heraldic Eagle Reverse: A Look Back
With the ongoing American Silver Eagle series getting a numismatic bookend of sorts, we now have the chance to look back at the Mercanti Heraldic Eagle Reverse of 1986-2020 with a retrospective eye.
The American Silver Eagle is one of if not the most popular of all silver bullion coins, and not just with American collectors. Many people the world over enjoy collecting and investing in American Silver Eagles for their artistry, instant recognizability, and assurance of their government-backed silver content.
Authorized by the Liberty Coin Act signed by President Ronald Reagan on July 9, 1985, the first American Silver Eagle was released on November 24, 1986, and became an overnight sensation. Not only did they revive Weinman’s exquisite Walking Liberty half dollar motif, retired 39 years earlier in 1947, but the one-ounce coins were also the first silver bullion coins ever released by the United States. The addition of a Proof version of the bullion coin intended for collectors only helped amplify the popularity of the series and ensured its crossover appeal with both investors and numismatists.
While the series is unquestionably a success, it has had its highs and lows. To be sure, the American Silver Eagle has seen many record mintages, with some of the most notable occurring since 2000 when seven out of eight consecutive years saw increasing mintage figures for the bullion-quality coins:
- 2008 – (20,583,000)
- 2009 – (30,459,000)
- 2010 – (34,764,500)
- 2011 – (40,020,000)
- 2012 – (33,121,500)
- 2013 – (42,675,000)
- 2014 – (44,006,000)
- 2015 – (47,000,000)
Mintages have since fallen markedly for the American Silver Eagle – possibly a reflection of a more stagnant metals market. But by end of the aughts and into the 2010s, some in the numismatic community were expressing disinterest in collecting Silver Eagles because the design had remained the same for over 20 years. Some rehubbing in 2008 brought small but noticeable changes to the coin, including the minor reshaping of obverse lettering, a smaller date, and refinements that made the stars on the reverse appear flatter, larger, and closer together.
In 2009, the United States Mint frustrated many collectors by allocating all one-ounce silver planchets for production of bullion-quality Silver Eagles only, which were seeing then-unprecedented demand. Ultimately no Proof coins were dated 2009, the only year during which no numismatic-finish American Silver Eagles were struck.
In 2014, members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) began actively discussing a design change for the Silver Eagle. However, many in the numismatic community saw this as fixing something that wasn’t broken, with coin commentator and former American Numismatic Association (ANA) Governor Thomas Uram then asking the rhetorical question, “Why mess with the best bullion coin in the world?” The idea of a reverse change was largely quelled, though the security enhancements slated for 2021 necessitated a major design overhaul and offered an opportunity for the redesign to coincide with the coin’s 35th anniversary.
Over its production period, the Mercanti-era American Silver Eagle saw the issuance of several key dates, varieties, and other notable releases. Until 2019, any numismatist would easily cite the 1995-W Proof American Silver Eagle, released as a bonus in the 1995-W five-coin Anniversary American Gold Eagle Set, as the series key; it has a mintage of only 30,125 pieces and regularly trades for about $3,000 and up. However, the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle, boasting a mintage of only 30,000 pieces and seeing at least a handful of pieces cross the $10,000 threshold, is making a push for recognition as the “other” key date.
Other important dates include the 1996, which has a mintage of only 3,603,386 pieces and is the decisive key date among bullion issues. The 1986 and 1994 bullion issues are widely seen as semi-keys, and all three of these key and semi-key bullion issues normally trade for substantial premiums above melt value.
The various special-finish Silver Eagles struck since 2006 have also been quite popular with collectors, with levels for these lower-mintage coins remaining strong in the secondary market many years after their release.
The Reverse Proofs have proven to be high-demand coins, with the 2011-P Reverse Proof having a mintage of only 99,882 pieces and selling for around $200 today. The other Reverse Proofs minted since their introduction in 2006 sell for more than $100. Burnished American Silver Eagles all generally trade for around $40 to $60, though one particular piece takes much higher prices. The 2008-W Burnished Reverse of 2007, an unintended variety boasting the older reverse intended for 2007 sans the minor design enhancements of 2008 mentioned earlier in this article, has an estimated mintage of 47,000 pieces and takes more than $400.
Buying 2020 American Eagles
The time is obviously ripe for collectors to pay more attention to the American Silver Eagle series. Perhaps those who have never collected the coins may find 2020 the perfect opportunity to buy each of the new releases coming up during the last year of the Mercanti Heraldic Eagle subtype and then add in the rest of the coins dating back to 1986. And, if the 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof American Silver Eagles shows us anything, it’s that the U.S. Mint may just have a pleasant surprise up its sleeves before it ushers in 2021 – and the new, as-yet-unannounced American Silver Eagle reverse that comes with it.
And those who collect the four denominations of American Gold Eagles (including the $5 tenth-ounce, $10 quarter-ounce, $25 half-ounce, and $50 one-ounce coins) may wish to focus their efforts on completing a collection showcasing the entire 1986-2020 run of these popular gold bullion offerings.
Other “lasts” coming to the American Eagle series in 2020 include the release of the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence 2020 Platinum Proof Coin – Pursuit of Happiness. The third and final issue of the three-coin series that began in 2018 and includes the “Life” theme of 2018 and the “Liberty” motif of 2019 features Lady Liberty gathering fruits in a field while walking alongside a young girl at play. The Pursuit of Happiness One-Ounce Platinum Proof Coin will be released on January 30, 2020, and has a mintage limit of 13,000 pieces with a household ordering limit of one coin.