By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for CoinWeek.com ……
The American Silver Eagle turns 30 years old in 2016. To honor the special occasion, the United States Mint is offering special-edition 30th Anniversary Proof and Uncirculated American Silver Eagles (ASEs) featuring a special edge inscription. 30th Anniversary American Silver Eagles are being minted at the U.S. Mint branch in West Point, New York.
While collectors will need to wait until later in the year to buy uncirculated American Silver Eagles, the proof version of the one-ounce 0.999-fine silver coin was released at noon Eastern on September 16, 2016. So far, the coin has already become a hit with collectors.
The lettered-edge 2016-W proof American Silver Eagle features a special edge inscription with the words in “30th ANNIVERSARY” in italicized, sans-serif incuse font. The remainder of the edge is smooth, marking the first time since the initial release of the American Silver Eagle in 1986 that the coin has not been made with its traditional reeded edge.
What’s on the Edge?
The edge-lettering motif on the 2016-W American Silver Eagle was authorized by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 4, 2015 as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The FAST Act is a $305 billion legislative package that provides funds for a variety of highway, railway, and motor vehicle projects and programs. That same bill also paves the way for 0.999-fine silver coins in proof sets and permits the Treasury Secretary to produce one-ounce 0.9995-fine palladium coins.
According to the U.S. Mint, the edge lettering on the 2016-W ASE as authorized under the FAST Act is a one-year feature, and next year’s silver eagles will resume the traditional edge reeding. The edge lettering was inscribed on the coin using the latest die tooling techniques. The general appearance of the smooth edge and incused lettered edge element resembles the similar motif seen on the America the Beautiful five-ounce silver coins, which also have smooth edges and incuse edge lettering.
Each Proof and Uncirculated 2016-W 30th Anniversary American Silver Eagle coin will be sold individually. The 2016-W Proof American Silver Eagle is packaged in a blue velvet case with satin lining and includes a special 30th Anniversary Certificate of Authenticity. Packaging details for the 2016-W Uncirculated American Silver Eagle have not been confirmed. The Mint also has not announced a release date or any related information about potential maximum mintages or household ordering limits for the Uncirculated 2016-W ASE.
How Much Will It Cost?
The 2016-W American Silver Eagle 30th Anniversary Proof coin is presently offered by the United States Mint for $53.95 USD retail. The coin is available as part of the Mint’s product enrollment program, which allows collectors to automatically receive certain products as part of a convenient subscription service.
Meanwhile, the United States Mint states it will sell the 2016-W Uncirculated American Silver Eagle for $44.95 each – one of the few details that can be presently confirmed about that particular offering.
The pricing for the proof and uncirculated 2016-W ASE numismatic products is higher than last year’s prices for both issues, reflecting higher silver bullion prices. In 2015, the Proof American Silver Eagle sold for $48.95, and the Uncirculated version was offered for $39.95.
How Many Will Be Made?
There are no maximum mintage limits on the 30th Anniversary American Silver Eagle Proof coin. There is also no household ordering limit for the coin. This is a significant policy departure from the protocol concerning other recent Mint products, such as the 2016 Liberty Centennial gold commemorative coins, which have been subject to strict ordering limits.
For perspective on potential mintage numbers for both the Proof and Uncirculated 2016-W American Silver Eagles, one need only look at recent production figures for other ASEs in either finish. For example, in 2014 the West Point Mint struck 944,757 proof American Silver Eagles and 253,169 uncirculated specimens. In 2013, the figures were 934,812 and 222,091, respectively.
Over the long term, annual sales have averaged from 850,000 to 950,000 pieces for the Proof silver eagles. Meanwhile, the Uncirculated issues tend to sell 200,000 to 300,000 units each year. Given the widespread appeal of the American Silver Eagle series among coin collectors and bullion investors, the figures for Proof and Uncirculated 2016-W silver eagles with lettered edges may exceed the typical sales figures for either type.
As of this writing, the United States Mint has struck 30,155,000 ASEs in 2016, a figure that, in late September, may portend a much lower total mintage for the entire year than seen in the previous two years. Fewer than 1.4 million silver eagles were made in each of the months of July, August and (so far) September 2016. These anemic figures reflect a remarkable monthly decrease from the robust four-million-plus struck in each of the first five months of 2016, with nearly six million made during January alone.
The staggeringly high mintage figure from January 2016 was on par with the brisk overall pace of ASE output during the previous two calendar years. In 2015, the U.S. Mint closed out that year with a record 47 million ASEs sold. The year before marked a previous record of 44,006,000 silver eagles. Of all 24 of those production months, only in two of them did the Mint strike fewer than two million silver eagles.
Will It Become Valuable?
I’m not the first to say it, but there’s no crystal ball in numismatics, and the situation here isn’t any different. While it’s doubtless that both of the coins will fare well on the side of U.S. Mint sales (at least at first), what comes once the coins are trading on the secondary market may yield an entirely different outlook.
Furthermore, the secondary market will almost surely be overrun with 2016-W silver eagles in sonically sealed, certified slabs bearing the phrases “First Day” and “First Strike”. Virtually all of those slabbed coins will assuredly grade MS-69 or PF-69, if not that one potent point higher – MS-70 or PF-70. As the 2016-W American Silver Eagles are being released toward the end of year, they may enjoy particularly decent sales thanks to holiday shopping and gift giving.
That, however, is where any sense of predictability comes to an end for the 2016-W ASE. Most Mint products don’t tend to retain their values well in the secondary market following their initial releases. However, American Silver Eagles do enjoy a particularly strong following among both investors and collectors. Yet even the collector market that so strongly supports American Silver Eagles today wasn’t necessarily predicted as a major share of the series’ market when the bullion coin was first released 30 years ago.
Why? Because American Silver Eagles, or at least non-numismatic bullion-quality silver eagles, weren’t really designed for coin collectors – that’s what Proof ASEs were originally intended for. “Bullion” (originally referred to as “Uncirculated”) American Silver Eagles were specifically pitched to metals investors, yet coin collectors eventually gravitated toward collecting those coins on a year-by-year basis. Many hobbyists now assemble entire date runs of the bullion-quality silver eagles spanning from 1986 to the present.
By the mid-2000s, ASEs enjoyed a vibrant hybrid market of both traditional numismatists and bullion investors, and the U.S. Mint began offering a broad array of American Silver Eagle products, including Burnished Proof and Reverse Proof issues. Many of these coins have held their value relatively well, independent of their prevailing bullion spot prices.
Will There Be a New Design?
The obverse of the 2016-W Proof American Silver Eagle boasts the usual Walking Liberty design that has appeared on the silver eagle since its debut in 1986. The Walking Liberty figure, Miss Liberty, is draped in an American flag-inspired gown and is seen striding before the sunrise with her right arm welcomingly outstretched in a gesture of peace and her left arm carrying laurel and oak branches.
The beloved design was originally created by noted sculptor Adolph A. Weinman and first appeared 70 years earlier on the half dollar. The design served its purpose beautifully on the Walking Liberty half dollar from 1916 through 1947 before it was retired in 1947. It resurfaced on the American Silver Eagle 39 years later.
The date 2016 is seen at the bottom-center of the lettered-edge American Silver Eagle coin, under Miss Liberty’s left foot. Behind her right leg is the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, and along the top center of the obverse rim is the word LIBERTY.
The reverse of the American Silver Eagle contains a heraldic eagle motif that was designed by former sculptor-engraver John Mercanti. His classic heraldic eagle design, which represents national strength and patriotic spirit, appeared on the reverse of the new bullion coin after it won an internal U.S. Mint coin design competition in 1986.
The eagle carries a shield before its breast and has an olive branch in its right talon and bundle of arrows in its left. The design hearkens to the Great Seal of the United States and is topped by 13 stars representing the original 13 colonies that formed the early United States. The reverse also carries the phrases UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and 1 OZ FINE SILVER – ONE DOLLAR. On a banner held by the eagle’s beak is the inscription E PLURIBUS UNUM. The “W” mintmark for the West Point Mint appears on the lower left of the reverse, between the letter “E” in FINE and olive branch.
While the American Silver Eagle has carried the same obverse and reverse designs since the coin’s inception, there have been recent rumblings of changes to the reverse design. Such discourse reached its recent peak in April 2014 when reports swirled that the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) had recommended a new flying eagle design to appear on the reverse of the American Silver Eagle. Many speculated a new reverse would debut in time for the 30th anniversary of the American Silver Eagle, though that deadline has clearly passed. The United States Mint still has not confirmed whether or not the reverse of the intrepid silver eagle will be changed in the foreseeable future.
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