American Silver Eagle bullion coins are produced by the United States
Mint. Every coin is guaranteed to contain one troy ounce of 99.9% pure
silver and has a face value of one dollar, far below the worth of its
intrinsic silver content.
Obviously, no one is going to walk into a convenience store and pluck
down a Silver American Eagle bullion coin to purchase, say, a candy
bar, but theoretically, someone could, since it is legal tender. What's
more, the clerk probably wouldn't know what to do if handed a Silver
Eagle, amplifying the absurdity of the scenario.
Because American silver eagle bullion coins ARE indeed real silver dollars, they
DO enjoy a collectible
value above and beyond their
precious metal content. Much of the collectible component in an
individual coin can be driven by quality (i.e. state of preservation),
also called grade or condition, as manifested by a numerical score
assigned by a third party grading service. Example scores are MS-69 or
MS-70 (see our Grading section to learn more about this
Therein lays a potential pitfall for collectors: How much extra (above
its intrinsic bullion value) should one pay to acquire a graded (or
ungraded, for that matter) one ounce Silver Eagle?
Over the years, US Coin Values Advisor has
received numerous requests for retail value trend data on silver and
gold bullion coins issued by the
United States Mint. Although the primary mission of this site is to
track long term selling prices of collectible United States coins and
make buying recommendations, it is hard to ignore the activity in the
bullion coin market.
Some of the $1 Silver Eagles are being graded and encapsulated by the
leading grading services today, PCGS and NGC. On any given day, you can
find dozens (if not more) of them being sold on eBay, yet the number of
raw, ungraded Silver Eagles being also being sold on eBay dwarf those
handled by the grading services.
The variance in selling price for the exact same product is astounding.
All too often, many buyers end up paying a lot more than what they
should have. Perhaps had buyers who paid too much had a better idea of
what the "going rate" was for an American Silver Eagle, graded or
ungraded, they would have saved a few bucks.
In order to assist Silver Eagle buyers to spend their money wisely, we
toiled nine months in 2015 compiling weekly selling data from eBay for
MS-69 coins graded by PCGS and NGC, as well as ungraded examples. In
the universe of graded Silver Eagles, the big majority of activity is
occurring at the MS-69 level, so that would be a useful area of study,
we reasoned (2020 update: study still valid).
The goal of the study was to establish
guidelines for Silver Eagle buyers to avoid spending more than they
should (an occurrence far too common in our observations). With so many
Silver Eagles for sale at any given time, if bidding has moved higher
than it should, why keep bidding? Go on to the next sale, fer cryin'
out loud! But where is the bidding cut off point?
Think of it like this: would you pay $2.50 for a gallon of gasoline
when another station across the street is selling the exact same gallon
of gas for $2.00? No one would do anything like that when its time to
fill the gas tank, but in the world of buying Silver Eagles, this
common sense precept often does not hold.
Unfortunately, our attempt to develop buying guidelines for MS-69 coins
graded by PCGS and NGC failed. The data just didn't lend itself to
developing a reliable mathematical model for estimating bidding
maximums for buyers. The numbers were all over the place with few
established patterns. Compounding the difficulty was all the gimmicky
labels attached to some graded coins. Example labels were “First
Strike”, “Blue Label”, “W mint mark”, "Rainbow", "Wyatt Earp", etc. It
seemed like every week, some new marketing angle was being deployed.
How much did these influence buyers to overpay? Probably too much to
make valid conclusions, so sorry, we have no buying guidelines for
graded/certified Silver Eagles.
We met with greater success in developing guidelines for
ungraded/uncertified Silver Eagles, which is where most of the buying
activity is, anyway. Before getting to the results,
let's review some of the methodology and data collected during this
Silver Price: The silver price for a
given week was calculated as the average of
the five daily closing silver prices that week. Speaking in the
vernacular of a mathematician, these were the "known x's" during the
computation phase of the study.
Samples Gathered: On average, well over 100 samples from
successful eBay sales were
gathered weekly. Average and median sale prices were determined for the
week, as well as the selling range. Ridiculous outliers (there were not
too many, thankfully) were tossed from the data set. The weekly selling
data were used to generate the "known y's".
Excluded from Study: Only Silver Eagles being sold without
some type of enticement (e.g.
birthday box, sports team logo) were used in the study. Much like any
commodity, one Silver Eagle is just like any other.
Shipping Cost Consideration: The shipping cost, if any,
was included in all the data gathered for
Silver Bullion Price Movement: The lowest weekly silver
bullion price during this study was $14.53/oz. The
highest was $17.21/oz. Not a tremendous amount of silver movement over
the nine month study.
Wide Range between Lowest and Highest Prices Paid: Each
week, a selling range was calculated, using the Highest Selling
Price minus the Lowest Selling Price. The average weekly range was
$9.29, with a standard deviation of $2.59. This illustrates eBay
customers were paying a wide difference in prices for the exact same
thing. Some buyers got real good deals. Others folks made some sellers
Estimated Premium for Silver Eagles above Bullion Price:
Though not a hard and fast rule due to the volatility of
the data, a reasonable benchmark is to use $5.60 as a premioum above
the silver price
to estimate an approximate ceiling for what a buyer should pay for a
Silver Eagle. Example: If the silver price is $15.00/oz, a buyer should
think twice about paying much more that $20.60 for an ordinary,
ungraded Silver Eagle.
Applicable Guidelines: The Silver Eagle Buying Guidelines
below are applicable for bullion prices at $12.50/oz and goes
up to $20.00/oz. Should silver move below or above the silver prices
listed, more sales data will be collected and analyzed in order to
extend the guidelines.
We've been keeping watch on the silver price for
years now. See table below. If you were sitting on top of a pile of
silver in mid-2011, waiting for prices to go higher, you missed the
boat. Just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, bullion
prices will spike dramatically again, though you might have to wait
another decade or two.
2011 to Present Month
Silver Bullion Price
* = through Feb 07,
Now that you have a better idea of what to pay
for an American Silver
Eagle bullion coin, you can buy with confidence. If you're shopping for
the latest US Mint issue, the 2020, click any link to get to your area
We encourage silver bullion coin buyers to
regard themselves foremost
as Silver American Eagle Dollar collectors. In other words, approach
the subject as a hobbyist might. For instance, get acquainted with the
history of the
Silver Eagle program and learn about coin
collecting terms such as Proof and Uncirculated mintage. Do this, and
you’ll become a
more adept buyer, positioning yourself for greater rewards. What’s
more, you may discover the joy (and potential profitability) of
traditional US numismatics along the way. We have a section toward the
bottom of this page that provides a more in depth view of the American
Silver Eagle bullion dollar. Here are the quick links to various
Professional Coin Grading Service
their operation in February 1986 as a pioneer in the coin grading
business. Since then, they’ve graded tens of millions of coins. PCGS is
universally regarded as one of the leaders in providing reputable third
party grading services.
There are several other smaller
services around, most of which raise concern because of their lax
standards. Unfortunately, less
experienced buyers frequently pay way too much for Silver Eagles
slabbed by the second tier grading services. In our opinion, you should
pay no more for these particular Silver Eagles than you would for
ungraded, standard bullion issues (see section
because if someday you choose to sell, no informed buyer
offer you much more than the silver content value. Based on the fact
that the average sale price is above that of the standard bullion
issue, many buyers are not heeding this advice.
Here is another point to ponder. Virtually every Silver Eagle slabbed
by these outfits are "Perfect" MS-70's. They very rarely list MS-69 or
coins. That right there should tell you something about their
Note: The value trends and commentary in
this section DO NOT
coins graded by ICG or ANACS. Both these services have fine
there were not enough American Silver Eagle bullion coins sold on eBay
with their labels to constitute a sufficient sample size.
The vast majority of Silver
bullion coins sold are not labeled with a grade. Most likely, an
individual coin gets to the end buyer from the Mint through middlemen
dealers without being labeled and does so because it (1) was looked at
by a dealer but deemed not worthy of the grading process, or (2)
never was evaluated by a dealer for grade potential to begin with.
The Silver Eagle sales recorded in our data collection process DID NOT
include coins packaged in special gift boxes or
any type of display cases, nor colorized coins. Some buyers will pay
more to acquire a standard Silver Eagle with above average presentation
qualities. That's fine, but no one making such a purchase should expect
to recover their extra cost if they in turn decide to sell.
Silver American Eagles
How the $1 American
Silver Eagle Got Started
Beginning in the 1970’s,
to build for the federal government to sell off surplus silver from the
Defense National Stockpile Center (DNSC). Some legislators viewed the
sale of the unneeded silver as a good way to bring in revenue. While
this may have seemed like a wise course of action, the mere mention of
a government sale caused the silver market to plummet, as traders
dumped their futures contracts in anticipation of falling prices.
of the Coeur d’Alene district in Idaho has long been one of the top
in the world. In 2009, it produced 3.5 million ounces. Image
courtesy of Wikipedia (Plazak).
In July 1981, Congress agreed
105.1 million troy ounces of the
stockpiled silver over the next three years, leaving only 25% of the
original total. The first auction occurred in October 1981, but further
sales were blocked due to skilled maneuvering by congressional members
of silver producing states.
As further attempts to resume sales were
stymied, the silver spot price rose in response to the gridlock, plus
increased worldwide demand for the metal.
Still concerned about the possibility of releasing silver from the DNSC
and resultant price plunges, Senator James McClure of Idaho – a major
silver mining state – proposed legislation several times throughout the
early 1980’s to provide for the disposal of silver from government
storage through the issuance of silver coins.
we are forced to accept a sale, why use the method guaranteed to
depress the price and dispose of the silver with the lowest possible
return to the taxpayers? Why not instead, if we must sell, at least get
as much for it as we can? Therefore, today, I am introducing
legislation which provides that in the event the President proposes and
Congress authorizes the sale of silver from the strategic stockpile,
this silver would be sold through the minting and distribution of a
On June 21, 1985, McClure
“Liberty Coin Act”, as an
amendment to other coinage legislation under consideration at the time.
McClure’s proposal was accepted by both houses of Congress and signed
into law by President Ronald Reagan on July 9, 1985. Officially known
as Title II of Public Law 99-61 (Liberty Coin Act), its key points are:
-- Authorizes the
Treasury to mint
and issue silver bullion coins.
-- Defines coin specifications: diameter, weight,
fineness, general design, inscriptions, and edge finish. Regulation of
-- Establishes numismatic (i.e. Proof) and legal
-- Silver is to come from the Defense National
-- Stipulation that no coins may be issued or sold
before September 1, 1986.
The first American Silver
coin was struck at the San
Francisco Assay Office on October 29, 1986. [This was the third SF Mint
building, opened in 1937. In 1962, it was demoted to an assay office,
but was restored to mint status in 1988]. Treasury Secretary James A.
Baker III was on hand for the striking ceremony. As Baker activated the
coining press with the push of a button, he remarked “I don't need a
pick and shovel to start the San Francisco Silver Rush of 1986”. Silver
Eagle bullion coins were released by the United States Mint to the
eager public on November 24, 1986.
The image on the front side
American Silver Eagle bullion coin did not originate specifically for
this issue. It was first used on the Walking Liberty Half Dollar of
1916 to 1947. The “Walker” design of Adoph A. Weinman was well liked by
the public during its heyday, so when the new United States silver
bullion coin was authorized, the decision was made to re-introduce
Weinman’s concept to a new generation of Americans, in anticipation
that it would increase the popularity of the Silver Eagle.
The reverse, on the other hand, was designed especially for the Silver
Eagle. John Mercanti, a sculptor/engraver who joined the US Mint in
1974 and went on to produce more coin and medal designs than any
employee in Mint history, created the reverse image. The central
Mercanti’s design is a heraldic eagle with shield above breast grasping
an olive branch (peace) in its right talon and arrows (strength) in the
left, reminiscent of the Great Seal of the United States. The Great
Seal first appeared on US coinage in the 1790’s and very early 1800’s.
There are 13 stars above the eagle representing the 13 American
colonies. Reverse inscriptions include UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1 OZ.
FINE SILVER-ONE DOLLAR, and E. PLURIBUS UNUM (Latin for “Out of Many,
Half Dollar of
1916-47 was the model for the obverse of the American Silver Eagle
bullion coin. Designed by Adolf A. Weinman, the "Walker" was
widely acclaimed as one of the most beautiful coins in United States
history. Coin Photos courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries.
The legislation passed in
that the silver used in the bullion coins be acquired from the DNSC. As
the stockpile dwindled over the years, it became obvious that if the
American Silver Eagle program was to continue, new legislation would
eventually have to be enacted to permit a new source of silver.
In June 2002, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada introduced a bill called the
“Support of American Eagle Silver Bullion Program Act”. The bill was
passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President
George W. Bush on July 23, 2002. The new law ensured the extension of
the Silver Eagle coin by authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury to
purchase silver on the open market when the DNSC silver stash was
authorized the acquisition of silver from sources other than the
Defense National Stockpile Center, as required in the 1985 law that
established the American Silver Eagle program. This was necessary if
the Silver Eagle was to continue, since by 2002 it was clear the
stockpile would soon be depleted. Image Courtesy of United States government.
From the inception of the
Eagle program in 1986 until 1992, Proofs were minted at San Francisco
and carry the “S” mintmark. From 1993 to 2000, Proof Silver Eagles were
produced at the Philadelphia Mint and accordingly bear the “P”
mintmark. In 2001, the proof operation was transferred to the West
Point Mint, where it remained until production ceased in 2008.
Naturally, West Point Silver Eagle Proofs display the “W” mintmark.
were ordered directly from the Mint, delivered in upscale packaging. Image
courtesy of Coin
All throughout this time,
could order Proof specimens for
the current year directly from the Mint, packaged in a plastic capsule
shield, displayed in an upscale presentation case, along with a
certificate of authenticity.
Proof production was halted in June 2008 when the Mint announced all
Silver Eagle planchets were going toward the making of the bullion
version of the coin, due to very heavy demand from precious metals
buyers seeking a hedge against inflation in the face of a global
economic downturn. No Proofs were issued in 2009. Proofs were not
issued in 2010 through October. However, on Nov 23, 2010, the Mint began offering American Eagle
2016, Proof coins continue to be offered by the Mint, and carry the "W"
It is easy
distinguish a "W" Silver Eagle Uncirculated (top photo) from the "W"
Proof version (bottom). The Proof has mirrorlike reflective fields. Images
courtesy of United
The term “Uncirculated” is a
when discussing Silver American Eagles. From 1986 through 2005,
“Uncirculated” really meant any Silver Eagle that was not a Proof, and
were struck by the millions and marketed simply as silver bullion
coins. These bullion coins, or if you will, “Uncirculated”, were
distributed to retail buyers through a network of authorized purchaser
wholesalers (see section
learn how this network functions).
small percentage of the bullion coin population that by luck escaped
the rigors of mass production (i.e. suffered very minimal scratches,
abrasions, or other imperfections), were pulled aside, graded, and
encapsulated (aka “slabbed”) in private enterprise holders (e.g. PCGS).
These high grade Uncirculated Silver Eagles were sold to collectors at
a premium above (sometimes too far above) their bullion coin value.
the Uncirculated Silver Eagles dated 2005 and earlier have a mintmark.
Things changed in 2006. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the
Silver Eagle program, the Mint began offering directly to the public a
collectible Uncirculated version of the coin.
Uncirculated Silver Eagles are produced by individually hand loading a
specially burnished (i.e. polished) blank in the coining
press and striking. The finished product is housed in
glitzy packaging, similar to Proofs.
Burnished Uncirculated Silver
Eagles were coined at West Point from 2006-08 and bear the “W”
mintmark. None were produced in 2009 or 2010. Of course, during the
years of the Burnished Uncirculated product, standard bullion coins
worthy of the grading process, but having no mintmark, continued to be
slabbed by grading
services and marketed as Uncirculated Silver Eagles.
Thus, collectors had two types of Uncirculated Silver Eagles to
consider: one specifically manufactured, packaged, and marketed
directly by the Mint with a “W” mintmark and dated 2006, 2007, or 2008,
and the other arising from
the ranks of the standard bullion population with no mintmark,
distributed by a network of authorized wholesalers.
Uncirculated were issued again by the US Mint, starting in 2011 and
continued through 2014 and, as before, bore the "W" mintmark. The
2015-W Uncirculated Silver Eagle will go on sale from the Mint on March
Just as with the gold and
platinum line of
bullion coins, the Mint does not sell American Silver Eagle bullion
coins directly to the public. Their distribution method employs a
network of “authorized purchasers”, consisting of banks, brokerage
companies, coin dealers, and precious metals firms. To become an
authorized purchaser, a company must meet numerous stringent
Silver American Eagle bullion coins to authorized purchasers through
shipments of green "Monster Boxes" Each box containes 500 coins. Image
courtesy of Wikipedia (Diiscool).
Bullion coins are shipped in
"monster boxes." The boxes are made
of plastic and each box holds 500 coins. The 500 coins are packaged in
25 tubes with a capacity of 20 coins per tube. The wording
“United States Mint” is written a couple of times in elevated lettering
across the lid of the Monster box, complemented by two Treasury
Every box is specially strap sealed and assigned a
serial number before shipping to an authorized purchaser.
The Silver Eagles are sold to authorized purchasers in quantities of at
least 25,000 coins per order. The authorized purchasers pay $2.00 per
coin above the silver spot price. Once in the hands of an authorized
purchaser, Silver Eagles are retailed to the general public.
For the sixth time in the last seven months, the Rare Coin Values Index moved higher, once again landing in record territory. This is sounding like a broken record, I know (pun intended). For you Mill…