The American silver eagle is the most popular silver bullion coin bought, sold, and traded in the United States. This has been the case since this coin was first produced in 1986, with mintage numbers increasing from the inaugural release of these coins. According to the U.S. Mint’s 2018 Annual Report, a total of 13,837,000 silver eagles were produced in 2018. While this is a considerable decline from the peak years of 2014 and 2015, with mintages of 44 million and 47 million, respectively, American silver eagles remain the preferred silver bullion coin of choice among investors and collectors alike.
Considering that millions of these coins are produced annually, one would assume that a silver eagle is a silver eagle. In other words, a silver eagle minted in one particular year should be no different than a silver eagle minted from another year. However, that’s not necessarily the case. In this article, we’re going to discuss the better date, or for lack of a better word, “key date” American silver eagles in hopes that you’ll be able to maximize the value when the time comes to sell your silver eagles.
Pre-2000 American Silver Eagles
It’s well known within the industry that American silver eagles minted in 1999 or earlier, with the exception of 1987, are better date and more valuable silver coins than their post-1999 counterparts. The reason for this is simple. Prior to 2000, the production levels of American silver eagles (with the exception of 1987) were below 10 million coins, and, by and large, were produced in lower quantities than post-1999 silver eagles. As stated in this Wikipedia entry, production levels of silver eagles weren’t consistently above 10 million until 2008; however, the year 1999 appears to be the cut-off in terms of higher-demand coins. Furthermore, there are some highly sought-after silver eagles within the pre-2000 category that sell at an additional premium.
1986 American Silver Eagles
As mentioned above, the production of American silver eagles began in 1986. While 1986 wasn’t a particularly low production year, with a mintage of nearly 5.4 million coins, it was the first year that the coins were produced, which has translated into additional demand for the items. Some original tubes can be found with orange caps, as opposed to the traditional green caps, but this isn’t prevalent. Because of the moderate production levels of this coin, they’re less valuable than some of the other silver eagles that we’re going to highlight below, but nonetheless, are premium coins for which you should expect to receive preferred rates.
1994 American Silver Eagles
At a production level of approximately 4.2 million coins, only the 1996 silver eagle has a lower mintage than the 1994 silver eagle. As you would expect, the price of the coin is valued accordingly. For those individuals that collect numismatic coins, you may be aware that the 1994 proof silver eagle has the lowest mintage and highest value of the individually-issued proof silver eagles. Interestingly, most of the American silver eagles produced in the mid-1990s were minted in relatively low quantities. According to The Silver Institute, the price of silver during this time period ranged from approximately $5 to $5.50 an ounce, which may have to do with the relatively low demand for the coins at this time. In comparison, the price of silver at the time of this writing is approximately $16 per ounce.
1995 American Silver Eagles
The mintage of 1995 silver eagles was the fourth-lowest since 1986, with a production level of approximately 4.67 million coins. The value of the 1995 silver eagle is less than the 1986 silver eagle, even though 700,000 fewer of these coins were produced than in 1986. When one thinks of better date American silver eagles, the 1995 silver eagle is oftentimes forgotten, most likely because it’s sandwiched between the two most valuable silver eagles, but it’s an important and valuable coin nonetheless. While the 1995 bullion silver eagle may, at times, be an afterthought, the 1995 West Point (W) minted proof silver eagle is the most valuable of the silver eagle coins. A mere 30,125 of these coins were produced and were only available as part of the 1995-W 10th-anniversary gold and silver eagle proof set. A 1995-W proof silver eagle certified PR or PF70 by one of the two leading third-party grading services will fetch north of $10,000. Not bad for a modern-issued coin!
1996 American Silver Eagles
Oftentimes referred to as the key date American silver eagle bullion coin, 1996 marks the lowest production level of American silver eagles, at 3.6 million coins. While this number is low relative to the production of other silver eagles, a mintage of 3.6 million coins is a fairly high mintage, especially when compared to some of the lower-mintage Morgan and Peace silver dollars, which, incidentally, trade for less than the 1996 silver eagle. However, as is typically the case with most collectibles, once an item is identified as being the rarest or most valuable of a collection, prices attributed to the item don’t always make sense on a relative basis. Regardless, for individuals that are collectors of American silver eagles, it’s difficult to pass up this significant coin.
1997 American Silver Eagles
In recent years, demand and, subsequently, pricing has increased for the 1997 silver eagle. With a production of 4.295 million coins, the 1997 silver eagle is the third-lowest mintage of the silver eagle series. Pricing and demand for these coins, at least at the time of this writing, is on par with the 1986 silver eagle, a coin with a mintage of over a million units greater than the 1997 coin. Considering that the mintage of this coin is only 70,000 more than the 1994 silver eagle, it’s conceivable that future pricing may be more on par with the 1994 silver eagle, thus providing significant upside potential.
We’ve classified American silver eagles into two categories: pre-2000 and post-1999, and we have discussed the demand and pricing for the coins produced in 1999 and earlier. Within the 1999-and-earlier category are five silver eagles that are especially of note. The 1986 silver eagle primarily has interest and higher attributed value due to it being the inaugural year of the coin. The 1994 and 1996 silver eagles are the most valuable and popular of the silver eagles, but don’t overlook the 1997 and 1995 silver eagles, which have the third- and fourth-lowest production levels, respectively. It’s also important to note that only lower-mintage silver eagle coins in brilliant uncirculated condition carry an additional premium; otherwise, they’re traded as common date silver eagles. We hope that you found this article to be helpful and encourage you to check back regularly at the Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers blog for all of the latest coins news, tips and recommendations.