Silver American Eagles have emerged as the most popular collector
series of the 2010s. As evidence, consider that 43 million American
Eagle silver dollars were sold last year, a staggering number, the
most ever. That means that in 2013, more than 5 percent of all silver
mined in the world went into these coins. Wow!
Originally designed as a silver investment vehicle, American Eagle
silver bullion coins almost immediately became popular with collectors
who then went on to build date sets. The bullion coins have no Mint
mark and are sold via a network of authorized distributors who buy
them in large quantity from the Mint. They have been issued each year
The Mint in 2006 created the Uncirculated version as a numismatic
companion to the bullion coin, to be sold directly to the public. The
two versions are almost identical, but the Uncirculated coins bear a
From 2006 to 2008 and from 2011 to 2013, the Uncirculated coins
were made at the West Point Mint with the W Mint Mark. Additionally,
in 2011, an Uncirculated coin was struck at San Francisco with the S
Mint Mark. Often these Uncirculated coins are called “Burnished
Eagles” because the Mint advertises them as struck on specially
burnished planchets, although this process does not affect the
appearance of the coin in any way.
The most basic date set of Mint State American Eagle silver
dollars, from 1986 to 2013, thus consists of 35 coins: 28 bullion
issues plus one San Francisco and six West Point Mint-marked issues.
For the collector of these coins, condition is key. Fortunately,
grading is generally straightforward. Marks and spots affect all
issues of silver American Eagles. As large coins, they pick up contact
marks and scrapes from coin-to-coin contact. Several areas on the coin
are prone to marks that a cursory examination might not reveal.
These include Liberty’s neck and outstretched hand, the trailing
edge of her skirt and ankle, and the mountains beneath the sun. On the
reverse, arcing hairlines in the fields can be missed, unless the coin
is rotated and examined at steep angles.
The main concern among all the coins is milk spots. The spots form
as a results of detergents used to wash the planchets. If inadequately
rinsed away, the detergent is struck into the coin. Not apparent at
first, over time it causes the coin’s metal to discolor into an
irregular milky-white haze or spots that cannot be removed. Not every
coin is affected, but many produced during the middle and late-1990s are.
Spotting accounts for the MS-70 silver 1999 American Eagles’
extreme scarcity. When offered, Numismatic Guaranty Corp.-
certified examples can command prices well above $20,000!
Scott schechter is a
grader at NGC and co-author
100 Greatest U.S. Modern
Coins. He can be reached by
email directed to him at