Does the silver American Eagle bullion coin really need a new reverse design?

Editorial column from May 26, 2014, issue of Coin World
By , Coin World
Published : 05/09/14
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Affordability.  Credibility.  Beauty.

According to the U.S. Mint, these three factors have made the American Eagle silver bullion coin a trusted store of value globally. 

To help with the beauty end of things, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee wants a new reverse design for all versions of silver American Eagles. 

The change has been a long-standing goal of the CCAC, and committee Chairman Gary Marks announced the most recent initiative during a March 11 meeting in Washington, and confirmed it during an April 8 committee meeting by telephone

The current reverse by former U.S. Mint Chief Engraver John M. Mercanti is paired with an obverse design by Adolph Weinman first used on the Walking Liberty half dollar in 1916. Both designs have been essentially unchanged since 1986. 

Perhaps the largest complaint with the Mercanti reverse design in that it’s not connected with Weinman’s Walking Liberty obverse. Some have even called the Mercanti reverse stodgy. However, in its formality, the Mercanti design does provide an official solidity that’s appropriate for a bullion coin that is supposed to be a trusted store of value. In other words, it lends credibility to the coin. 

That’s not to say that the reverse design can’t be improved, but sales of the bullion coins are seemingly not hurting because of the design.

In 2013 nearly 43 million American Eagle silver bullion coins were sold by the U.S. Mint. It’s the world’s leading silver bullion coin and demand shows no signs of slowing down. As I write this, American Eagle silver bullion sales in 2014 by the U.S. Mint are approaching 20 million coins. 

But the reasoning behind a design change should be more than mere aesthetics.

The CCAC initially recommended that the reverse be changed for just the silver bullion version of the American Eagle. It has now extended the recommended change to all versions of silver American Eagles.

While I don’t believe a design change is currently needed for the bullion coins — the consistency has given the silver American Eagle a reliable, credible brand worldwide with collectors and investors — a new reverse could be used selectively. 

For example, a new reverse design could be transformative for the Uncirculated American Eagle silver coin. These are struck on specially burnished blanks and have a “W” Mint mark, but to many collectors, they look the same as the regular bullion coin. 

Unlike the bullion coin, which is available from secondary market dealers for a few dollars over the spot price of silver, the burnished Uncirculated silver American Eagle is available directly from the U.S. Mint for $43.95 as I write this. 

The U.S. Mint has no problem selling the bullion and Proof versions of the silver American Eagle (in fact, it often can’t keep up with demand) but a new reverse could make the burnished Uncirculated American Eagle a coin at the forefront of collecting, rather than just another U.S. Mint offering.

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