The Silver American Eagle
November 24th, 1986 is when the Silver American Eagle was first debuted for sale by the United States Mint. Since then, more than 230 million Silver American Eagle coins have been minted. That may seem like a very large number of coins, but it’s actually a small amount when compared to the mintages of the coins used for daily circulation. Just in 2011 alone, there were 8.2 billion coins produced for circulation. Even a few weeks of making pennies can quickly outnumber the total number of Silver American Eagles available including up to 2012.
Design and Specifications
The Silver Eagle is only struck in one size, with a face value of one dollar ($1). Its content, weight, and purity have been certified by the United States Mint to contain 99.9% one troy ounce of pure silver .
Just like the newly-minted gold coins, the Silver American Eagle coins have been minted and distributed in both bullion and proof finishes, dating back to 1986. The obverse, or front, of the coin is derived from the design of the nation’s first circulating half-dollar, designed by Adolph A. Weinman, which debuted in 1916. Mr. Weinman’s initials can still be found upon closer inspection on the hem of Lady Liberty’s gown.
The reverse of the coin depicts a design by John Mercanti, which illustrates a shield in front of a heraldic eagle. In its right talons, the eagle holds an olive branch, and in its left are 13 arrows. Charles Thomson, who designed the very similar-looking Presidential Seal, explained that “The olive branch and arrows denote the power of peace and war, which is exclusively vested in Congress.”
A Long time in the Making
The Silver American Eagle bullion program started in the 1970s as an executive plan to sell off some of the silver from the Defense National Stockpile Center, a branch of the United States Defense Logistics Agency. The DNSC’s purposes are to store, secure, and sell different raw materials, including silver. As reported in a Wall Street Journal article, “Several administrations had sought unsuccessfully to sell silver from the stockpile, arguing that domestic production of silver far exceeds strategic needs. But mining-state interests had opposed any sale, as had pro-military legislators who wanted assurances that the proceeds would be used to buy materials more urgently needed for the stockpile rather than merely to reduce the federal deficit.”
Varieties and Mint Origins
The Silver Eagle bullion coins lack mintmarks, so at first it may be hard to decipher where yours was minted. However, since they were never minted at two different places at the same time, you can determine where a specific silver coin was minted based on the year it was produced. The first coins were minted in San Francisco between 1986 and 1998. Then they were minted in Philadelphia in 1999 and 2000. Any coins made after 2001 have been produced at West Point.
On the other hand, proof Silver Eagles do contain a mintmark to display their place of origin. The batch produced in San Francisco bears an “S” as its mintmark, and came out between 1986 and 1992. The next set, from 1993 to 2000, came from Philadelphia, and contain a “P” mintmark. West Point is represented with a “W,” and produced proof Silver Eagles from 2001 to 2010, except for 2009, which is the only year since 1986 that proof Silver Eagles were not in production.