- Composition is 99.93% silver and .07% copper
- 1 ounce of pure silver
- 40.6mm diameter with a Reeded edge
- Obverse: Weinman’s Classic Walking Liberty
- Reverse: Mercant’s Heraldic Eagle
- Guaranteed by the United States Government for purity and content
Bullion coins, like the South African Krugerrand and the Canadian Maple Leaf, are valued by its weight in a specific precious metal and are intended for investors seeking a simple and tangible means to own precious metals. Now, bullion coins issued by governments the world over, are gaining a modern quasi-numismatic value because of their limited mintages, rarity, and condition.
History of the American Eagle Silver Coin
Introduced as a silver investment vehicle, the seeds of the American Eagle silver coin program were actually planted as far back as the Great Depression. The banking system was wounded and fragile throughout the early 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6102
which prohibited the hoarding of gold. The order required all persons to deliver all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates now owned by them to a Federal Reserve Bank on pain of criminal prosecution. Millions of gold coins were delivered and subsequently melted into gold bars and stored at the Bullion Depository in Fort Knox. The value of the gold held by the government tripled between 1933 and 1937.
Throughout the 1930s and into the 1960s, the spot price of gold was pegged by the US government at a steady $35 an ounce. Meanwhile, silver fluctuated between 30 cents and 90 cents an ounce.
The Gold Reserve Act of 1934
changed the dollar value of gold from $20.67 to $35 per ounce, a price point that remained in effect till August 15, 1971, when President Nixon took the country off the gold standard entirely. Just a few years prior, the precious metal silver was considered too expensive to use for coinage: the US Mints had stopped using silver in American Coinage in 1965. The government held massive reserves of silver as part of the national-defense stockpile, but more about that in a moment. President Gerald Ford re-legalized the private ownership of gold near the end of 1974. After more than 40 years, US citizens could legally own as much gold as they wanted. At this time, and up until President Reagan took office, the prevailing wisdom about silver as that its production far exceeded any strategic need for the metal. Consequently, administrations sought unsuccessfully to liquidate large portions of the nation’s stockpile. Many voices, not the least of which was the Wall Street Journal, protested the selloff arguing that it would ignite massive unloading of futures contracts in speculation that such a sale would depress prices. Many military-minded lawmakers protested as well.
Despite all the opposition and bad press, the government sells portions of its silver in order to help balance the budget in the Spring of 1982. Later that year, the spot price of silver and gold fell 11 percent. A group of politicians from Idaho, a major silver-mining state, set the wheels in motion to block the further sale of silver. They succeeded and, in 1982, Senator James McClure and Representative Larry Craig introduced identical bills in the Senate and House to provide issuance of silver coins. Although the bills were never enacted, summer saw the price of silver soar when Secretary of the Interior James Watt announced the postponement of the federal silver selloff. The suspension of silver sales lasted for a couple of years until Senator McClure proposed the Liberty Coin Act — an amendment to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Commemorative Coin Act, which passed and signed into law on July 9th by President Ronald Reagan. This new legislation would provide investors a safe, simple means for investing in precious metals.
With this act, the Silver American Eagle bullion coin was born.
The design for the Silver American Eagle program began immediately after the staff, led by John Mercanti’s design, finished the Statue of Liberty — Ellis Island coin design. The only parameters dictated by congress were that the obverse includes a symbolic design of Liberty and an American Bald Eagle on the reverse. Beyond those specifications, the design specifications were not well defined. A decision was made almost immediately that the obverse of the American Eagle program would resurrect what many considered to be the most beautiful design ever created on American coinage (Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Double Eagle notwithstanding), Adolph A. Weinman’s award-winning Walking Liberty design originally used on half dollars between 1916 and 1947.
Weinman previous design of American Liberty had won the contest for the so-called silver “Mercury” dimes which in circulation for decades. The contemporary half dollar featured a full-length Lady Liberty walking confidently in full stride, robed in the flag of the United States, her right hand extended in a gesture of goodwill, her left hand holding a bouquet of laurel and oak — symbols of both civility and military glory. It was a design that captured the spirit of the era perfectly. Art historian Cornelius Vermeule would later call it one of the greatest coins of the United States.
Many eagle designs were submitted for the reverse including flying eagles, perched eagles, and a more formal forward-facing eagle. These were all sketched by hand. The various drawings by the staff of engravers were submitted to the Treasury. Once again, John Mercanti’s formal, forward-facing eagle with wings spread open with 13 stars in a reversed triangle over the eagle, was selected by Secretary of the Treasury James A. Baker III.
Mercanti’s reverse has the heraldic eagle protected by a shield emboldened by the American flag, an olive branch — the symbol of peace, held tightly in the right talons while left talons grip the arrows of conflict. The eagle holds a banner in its beak. On the banner are the words E. PLURIBUS UNUM which mean Out of Many, One…the motto of the United States. The whole design is encircled with the phrase UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1 OZ. FINE SILVER-ONE DOLLAR and since the master plaster sculpture for the Weinman Walking Liberty obverse is only 6 inches in diameter, John Mercanti decided to make his model the same size. “We did this to get the same quality on both sides when we made the Janvier reductions. When you consider the amount of detail of the piece and the sculptural beauty of it, you appreciate the skill and knowledge required to achieve what Weinman did on such a small scale. Mercanti wrote It was no easy task to model something so intricate at that scale. It took about two weeks.
It was a chilly autumn morning at the San Francisco Mint on October 29th, 1986, when Secretary of the Treasury James Baker presided over the striking of the first American Silver Eagles. As Baker went to press the electronic button to start press No. 105, he turned to the audience and proclaimed, I don’t need a pick and a shovel to start the San Francisco Silver Rush of 1986! It was a prophetic statement indeed.
The first release came on November 24th, 1986. Each of the 28 authorized distributors bought their full allotment of 50,000 specimens, adding to a maximum sellout of 1.4 million coins. Scrambling to meet demand, the Mint announced it would produce 5 million coins by the end of 1986. In addition to striking coins at West Point, new production lines were added at the Denver and San Francisco Mints. The total mintage of the 1986 American Silver Eagles exceeded 5.39 million coins and it was still a sellout. Since the bullion coins were struck without a mint marks, it is impossible to distinguish where each coin originated.
The 2011-S $1 Silver American Eagle
The Mint offered a 5-coin anniversary set of Silver Eagles to celebrate the Silver American Eagle program’s 25th Anniversary. The set included 3 of the same coin types featured in the 20th Anniversary set: the West Point Proof Silver Eagle with the W mint mark; an Uncirculated Silver Eagle regular strike with the W mint mark; and a Philadelphia Reverse Proof Silver Eagle with the requisite P mint mark; and the coin that got the whole collector community talking…the Uncirculated Silver Eagle from San Francisco with the S mint mark. What was so special about this last coin? It was the first-ever Uncirculated Silver Eagle with an S mint mark. It is, to this day, the only Uncirculated Silver Eagle with the S mint mark. While it’s true that Proof strikes had been made with the mint mark, it had been 20 years ago and the mintages were a half million and above. This special 25th Anniversary coin was limited to 100,000 pieces, among the lowest mintage of the entire American Eagle series. It’s still a hot seller and highly sought after.
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