U.S. Mint's American Eagle bullion coins: Precious metals basics

The program that began in 1986 has produced gold, silver and platinum bullion coins over the years
By , Coin World
Published : 05/20/15
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The U.S. platinum coins went on sale June 6, 1997, in denominations of $10, $25, $50 and $100—the latter being the highest denomination coin ever struck by the U.S. Mint. All of the platinum coins to date have been struck at the U.S. Mint at West Point; Proof versions therefore bear the W Mint mark. Platinum coins, because of the hardness of the metal, must be struck several times in order for their designs to strike up properly.

All American Eagle silver, gold and platinum coins are sold by the U.S. Mint to a select number of authorized purchasers, who buy the bullion pieces from the Mint at the cost of the metal in each coin plus a premium, and then sell the coins to dealers and collectors at an additional premium. The Mint sells the collector versions of the coins directly to the public.

The Mint added a new type of collector American Eagle silver, gold and platinum coin to the mix when it struck Uncirculated versions bearing the W Mint mark in 2006 and sold the coins at premiums above their bullion value. The Mint termed these as “Uncirculated” coins and at the same time stopped using the word “Uncirculated” in reference to its bullion coins, which had previously always been marketed as “Uncirculated” (the bullion versions simply became “American Eagle bullion coins”).

Hobbyists frequently termed these new collector Uncirculated American Eagle coins as “Burnished Uncirculated” due to their method of manufacture and to differentiate them from the previously struck Uncirculated bullion coins. Burnished Uncirculated strikes were produced from 2006 to 2008.

The American Eagle bullion coin program underwent a number of changes in 2009, most of them unwelcomed by collectors. High demand for precious metals, deriving from fears over an economic downturn in the United States and elsewhere, led to record sales for the American Eagle silver bullion coin and recent highs for the gold coin.

Since the American Eagle silver and gold programs’ debut in 1986, the Mint had been required to meet the demand for the bullion versions of the coin. No such requirement existed for the collector versions.

In order to meet demand for the American Eagle gold and silver coins, the United States Mint focused its attention on the 1-ounce versions and diverted all planchets to the bullion program. This latter decision led the Mint to suspend Proof strikes in 2009 in favor of bullion-only strikes. The Mint also suspended the collector Uncirculated program. Late in 2009, the United States Mint did strike small numbers of the fractional gold bullion coins; they sold out quickly.

Many collectors of Proof American Eagle silver and gold coins were angered with the decision to suspend Proof production in 2009. Some vowed to stop collecting the Proof coins if and when the Mint resumed production. The Mint did resume when Proof strikes for the American Eagles silver and gold coins in 2010. When this book went to press, sales figures for the 2010 coins were incomplete, making it difficult to judge whether collectors had kept their vows against buying the Proof coins.

For American Eagle platinum coins, the situation in 2009 was reversed, with the Mint ceasing production of bullion and Uncirculated platinum pieces, but continuing with Proof platinum strikes. In fact, the Mint went further, discontinuing fractional platinum coins in both 2009 and 2010. As of early 2011, no American Eagle platinum bullion coins of any size had been sold since late 2008; Mint officials were noncommittal on whether the program would be resumed.

The above is an excerpt from the eighth edition of the Coin World Almanac, published by Amos Media Company in 2011.

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