by Al Doyle for CoinWeek ………

Even though Canada beat the U.S. to the gold bullion game by introducing the gold Maple Leaf in 1979, the silver version didn’t become a reality until 1988. That was two years after the silver Eagle debuted in 1986.

Once thought of strictly as a bullion piece, the silver Maple’s quarter-century run makes it a worthy candidate for a complete date set. Although this isn’t an expensive project, finding all 26 dates won’t be a snap. That’s especially true for collectors located outside of Canada, as there are few U.S. dealers who stock silver Maple Leafs by date.

ca_silver_mapleWhy bother collecting modern silver? Isn’t an ounce an ounce regardless of where it was struck? Such thinking doesn’t apply to Maple Leafs. In addition to business strikes, the Royal Canadian Mint has produced a wide assortment of low-mintage pieces for the collector market.

The series kicked off with a mintage of 1,062,000 in 1988, a decent number at a time when precious metals weren’t as popular as they are today. The appealing design combined with the worldwide popularity of Canadian coinage led to much higher sales in 1989 (3,332,200) and 1990 (1,708,800) before a 15-year slump in demand put mintages on a downward path.

The 1991 mintage of 644,300 plunged to 343,800 the following year. Sales rose to 1,133,900 in 1993 and 889,446 in 1994 before demand for the silver Maple took a three-year plunge. Those who focus on key dates will want the 1995 (mintage 326,244), 1996 (250,445) and 1997 (a series-low 100,970). Plan on spending at least $65 for the 1997.

1998 ‘s mintage of 591,359 is lower than average for the series, and the 1999 (1,229,442) looks like a radical departure as compared to the previous four years. Exactly 300,000 dual-dated 1999-2000 BU Maple Leafs were issued to go with 403,652 pieces carrying the year 2000. That was followed by a virtually identical run (398,563) in 2001. The 2002 to 2004 silver Maples are similar in availability and mintage (576,196, 684,750 and 680,925 respectively).

Think of 2005 as a transition year and harbinger of things to come for the series. Sales rose to 955,694, but that improvement was just a blip compared to what has happened since then. Silver Maple Leaf mania began in 2006 when 2,464,727 were struck. That number rose by more than a million to 3,526,052 in 2007. If those numbers some high, take a look at demand for the .9999 fine coin since 2008.

Mintages have kicked into overdrive in tandem with greater retail demand for silver. A run of 7,909,161 Maples in 2008 was by far the highest in the series, and production rose nearly 23 percent to 9,727.592 in 2009. Those dates along with the 2010 feature different reverse designs honoring the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Nearly 17.8 million silver Maples with a hockey theme were struck, but that wasn’t the peak for the series.

Imagine 23,129,966 carrying a 2011 date, or 229 times the number of silver Maple Leafs sold in 1995. All bull markets take a breather or come to an end, but the 2012 mintage of “only” 18,132,297 ranks as the second largest in the series.

The Canadian Wildlife series is an extension of the silver Maple Leaf. Mintages of 1 million per design have been issued for the silver Timber Wolf and Grizzly (2011) and the Cougar and Moose (2012). This year’s species are the Pronghorn Antelope and Wood Bison coins. Collectors who have completed the silver Eagle set or those who appreciate variety (three different portraits of Queen Elizabeth II have appeared in the series) will find the silver Maple Leaf to be a reasonably priced and interesting series.