June 15

American Silver Eagle Coins

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American Silver Eagle coins are among the most popular and in-demand silver coins in the world. The American Silver Eagle is the official silver bullion coin of the United States Government. Their weight and purity levels both carry the direct guarantee of the Government of the United States.

In the early 80s, the United States had amassed a massive stockpile of silver far greater than the country's strategic needs. Attempts to sell the stockpile were unsuccessful and threatened to cause a disruptive silver glut in world markets.

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Background of American Silver Eagles

Rather than sell massive quantities of silver at fire-sale prices, The Reagan Administration and some Congressional leaders pushed to create a silver coin program that would get the highest possible return on silver sales for the U.S. taxpayer.

Congress first authorized the minting of the Silver Eagle under the Liberty Coin Act of 1985, and the first coins were minted and distributed in late 1986.

Congress also wanted a series of gold, silver, platinum, and palladium coins to serve as a viable investment alternative to coins minted in other countries.

By 2002, the production of Silver Eagles had depleted the original silver stockpile. President George W. Bush signed a new bill authorizing the purchase of new silver on the open market to support the continuation of the Silver Eagle program.

American Silver Eagle coins have a guaranteed minimum fineness of 0.999. That is, all American Silver Eagle coins are 99.9% pure silver.

Because each American Silver Eagle coin carries the official backing and guarantee of the United States Government, these coins tend to trade at a premium compared to other silver coins minted overseas.

Related: Diversify your Investment Portfolio or Retirement Account with Silver Coins.

Silver Eagles

Design

The American Silver Eagle coin’s design is based on Adolf Weinman’s “Walking Liberty” half-dollar coin design. The Walking Liberty half-dollar ran from 1916 to 1947. Long renowned for being one of the most beautiful coin engravings ever designed, Weinman’s vision was updated with new production techniques and adopted for the Silver Eagle.

The coin's reverse side shows a John Mercanti design of an eagle carrying a shield and bearing an olive branch in its right talon and a group of arrows in the left. The olive branch is a symbol of peace, while the shield and arrows represent defensive and offensive war, respectively.

Since 2021, the reverse shows an eagle coming in for a landing, carrying an oak branch as if to add it to a nest. To give the new coins an added level of security, they have also been updated with enhanced security features, including a reeded edge variation.

The newer coins have a number of security features, as well, to help prevent shaving, counterfeiting, and other forms of fraud.

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American Silver Eagle Coin Specifications

Unlike the American Gold Eagle coins, which are minted in 1-ounce, ½-ounce, 1/4th-ounce, and 1/10th ounce sizes, the Silver Eagle only comes in one size: 1-ounce.

American Silver Eagles weigh 1.000 troy ounces (31.103 grams) and have a diameter of 40.60 mm. Edges are "reeded," which makes all but the most sophisticated attempts at "shaving" metal from the coins obvious to dealers and knowledgeable collectors.

Also, like the Gold Eagle Coins, the Silver Eagle comes with a nominal face value engraved on the coin. But the face value is meaningless: The real value of the coin comes from the metal content itself.

Prices are based on the market price of silver, plus a small premium to cover minting and distribution costs.

Related: Investing in Silver Coins and Rounds - What You Need to Know

Precious Metals IRA Information

Free Investor Kit: Add Silver American Eagle Coins to Your IRA or Investment Portfolio

Bullion vs. Proof American Silver Eagle Coins

The Silver Eagle comes in bullion and proof form. The term "bullion" refers to a precious metal minted or struck solely for investment and financial reasons as a standard store of value. Bullion coins are not intended for day-to-day use as currency. This makes it possible to mint bullion coins of very high purity.

Proof coins are specially minted using advanced production techniques designed to enhance their desirability and value for collectors. The Silver Eagle proofs are minted using special, high-grade dies to improve contrast and feature sharpness. In addition, the backgrounds of proof coins are mirrored, with other elements featuring a "frosted" appearance. 

Proof Silver Eagles were minted in San Francisco from 1986 to 1992. These coins have an “S” mintmark. From 1993 to 2000, they were minted in Philadelphia with a “P” mintmark. From 2001 through 2008, proof Silver Eagles were minted at West Point with a W mintmark.

The global financial crisis of 2008 led to a run on silver, so no proof coins were minted for the year 2009. The U.S. Mint resumed minting proof Silver Eagles at West Point from 2010 through the present writing in 2021.

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Burnished Uncirculated Coins

The U.S. Mint also produces an "uncirculated" or "burnished" version of the coin, marketed at coin collectors – first at West Point from 2006 through 2008 and then from 2011. Like the proof versions, these coins bear the "W" mintmark, indicating West Point.

Additionally, The San Francisco Mint produced a special burnished uncirculated Silver Eagle edition commemorating the coin’s 25th Anniversary in 2011.

Burnished coins are minted using specially polished "blanks," giving the raised sections of the coins a "floating" effect.

Related: Investing in Silver Bars - A Beginner's Guide

Use in IRAs

American Silver Eagle coins are authorized for use in IRAs and other retirement accounts. However, investors interested in holding these coins within retirement accounts should take careful note of the various laws concerning IRAs. A mistake could cause the IRS to revoke your IRA’s tax-advantaged status, resulting in significant tax penalties and fines.

Investors may not take personal, direct possession of American Silver Eagles or other coins, bars, and bullion within IRA accounts. Instead, all precious metals in retirement accounts must be physically held by an IRS-authorized custodian – often a third-party vault service.

What Kind of American Silver Eagle Coin is Best for IRA Accounts?

Generally, U.S. law prohibits owning proof coins within IRAs. By law, all IRA precious metals must be bullion, though Congress made an exception for the American Eagle series of coins. That said, most experts recommend that precious metal IRAs hold only bullion. This is because proof coins, like other collector’s coins and numismatics, trade at a premium, which would drive down IRA returns.

Instead, hold bullion in your retirement accounts, and reserve the higher-grade proofs, burnished coins, and other collectors' items for your personally-owned collection.

Where to Buy American Silver Eagles

Though the U.S. Mint exclusively manufactures American Silver Eagles, you cannot buy coins directly from them. Instead, they work through authorized coin dealers throughout the United States.

You can also buy American Silver Eagles via private sellers on the secondary market. However, investors should take care to avoid counterfeits and other scams, such as sellers who tell you that you are buying proof coins (or coins meeting a specific quality grading) while delivering a bullion rather than a proof coin.

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Free Guide: Diversify your investment portfolio with American Silver Eagle Coins.


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About the author 

Ilir Salihi

Ilir is passionate about personal finance, investing, and digital marketing. He's written about precious metals and cryptocurrencies since 2013. When he's not publishing new content, he's spending time at home in Washington, D.C. with his family.

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