Precious Metals

1996 American Eagle silver bullion coin rare

Making Moderns column from Dec. 14, 2015, issue of Coin World:

As early as March of this year, Coin World was predicting that the 2015 American Eagle silver bullion coins would reach record production levels, a bullish forecast given that in 2014 an all-time high of 44 million coins were minted. Now, it seems likely that those predictions will come to pass. 

Twenty years ago, the story was very different. From 1994 to 1998, fewer than 5 million silver American Eagles were struck each year. The nadir of production occurred in 1996, when only 3.6 million American Eagle silver bullion coins were struck. Already six times this year, monthly sales totals have surpassed this figure!  

American Eagle silver bullion coins are struck to order. Today, the Mint struggles to acquire enough silver planchets to meet demand, rationing the distribution of coins during brief allocation periods.

In the mid-1990s, demand was simply very limited. What accounts for the change and what does this mean for collectors?

When the first silver American Eagles hit the market in 1986, there was pent-up demand for an American-made silver bullion coin. In early 1987, the price of silver was $5.50 per ounce, but silver American Eagles traded for over $10 in the market, or a premium over silver spot prices of nearly $5. Then silver spiked, hitting a high of $9.44 per ounce in early 1987. Silver American Eagles routinely traded for more than $14 each.

From that high, steadily and year after year, the value of silver slid. Concurrently, as cumulative production grew, the premiums for silver American Eagles shrank, first to $2 per coin in 1988 and from $1.25 to $1.50 per coin by 1991, when silver was trading for $4 per ounce. There silver languished. It would not reach even the $6 mark until December of 1997. 

Changes in the value of silver and the decrease in the American Eagle silver bullion coin’s premium to spot prices meant one important thing. Everyone who bought the silver coins during their first five years of production had either already lost money or was sitting on a losing position.

Against that backdrop we have the low mintage 1996 American Eagle silver bullion coin. Nobody wanted these coins. In January 1996, the Mint sold just 30,000 silver American Eagles! 

Today, the 1996 silver American Eagle is very popular. Uncertified coins can be found for $80, and for less with some searching, but always for more than three times current spot prices. Because this coin is also prone to develop spots, certified Mint State 69 coins trade for as much as $150, the highest of any bullion issue in the series.

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