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Silver American Eagle Rare Dates (Part I)

It was with great fanfare back in 1986 when the US Mint announced it would start producing the Silver American Eagle. The coin was guaranteed to contain one ounce of 99.9% silver, and hold a nominal face value of one dollar. The obverse very closely resembled that of the Walking Liberty Half Dollar of 1916-47. This design, created by A.A. Weinman, was chosen for its widely acclaimed beauty and popularity with coin collectors. A brand new appearance was developed for the reverse.

The Silver American Eagle is indeed a real coin. It is legal tender, duly minted under the authority of the US government. Most people who buy the coin are motivated by the desire to acquire one ounce of silver for investment purposes. Some buyers, however, are more interested in the Silver American Eagle from a numismatic perspective. That is, they focus on obtaining examples for various dates and mint marks. The availability of regular and proof strikes expands the selection possibilities.

Because so many people purchase Silver American Eagles thinking of them as collectible coins, most numismatic price guides (e.g. Coin World, Redbook, etc) list values for every date and mint mark, across a range of grade conditions, covering regular and proof strikes.

Are there any rare dates in the Silver Eagle series? Do any of them have good potential to grow in value based on their numismatic integrity? These questions are seldom addressed, so we’ll take a shot at it here.

Proof Rare Date Silver Eagles

In Part I of this study, we’ll consider Proof issues only. From 1986 to 2011, a total of 28 proof dates were released. Going down the PF-65 column in most price guides, 25 of them are priced at around $65. A couple of them list between $100 and $200. Only one date, the 1995-W, jumps out, valued at nearly $3000. What is driving this huge disparity? Is this bona fide rare coin or what?

The 1995-W Silver American Eagle Proof, was, in fact, produced in relatively small numbers. Its mintage of 30,125 pales in comparison to other Silver American Eagle proof coins, which averages about 600,000 or so. The 1995-W was a member of the 10th Anniversary American Eagle Proof Set. There were four additional coins in the set, which included four 1995-W Proof Gold Eagle coins in one ounce, half ounce, quarter ounce, and tenth ounce sizes. The set sold for $999, and in all, a total of 30,125 were sold.

There was a 1995 Proof Silver Eagle sold separately, which carried the “P” mint mark, but it is many times more abundant.

Now that we’ve uncovered evidence that the high cost of the 1995-W Silver American Eagle Proof is due, at least in part, to actual scarcity, is it a wise purchase for a collector seeking a coin with good prospects for value increases? Buyers who are willing to shell out nearly $3000 for a PF-65 example might be surprised to learn that back in 2007, this exact same coin sold for $6000. From the time of its initial release, the 1995-W, amid loud trumpet blares, skyrocketed in price immediately, finally hitting its peak 12 years later. Since then, prices have plummeted by more than 50%.

This type of pricing history is not typical of rare date coins with solid numismatic credentials. While it is true that such a coin, let’s say an MS-65 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent, does goes up and down in value over time (mostly up), normally it does not suffer a disastrous crash in value like this because it has a foundation of support from the coin collecting community.

This leads us to believe the 1995-W is on somewhat shaky ground, numismatically speaking. What caused the price explosion of the past may well have been generated by promotional hype, speculation, or perhaps it was simply a passing fad. It most likely was not founded on traditional numismatic influence.

What does the future hold? Nobody can predict events to come with perfect certainty, but don’t look for the 1995-W to join the ranks of rare date powerhouses anytime soon. This isn’t to say price spikes won’t happen again, but if it does, it will occur because of factors outside of numismatic fundamentals. Buyers hoping to reap rewards because of coin collecting pressure are advised to focus on rare dates in consistent demand, with a record of proven price performance over a long period of time.

One final thought: Decades from now, conceivably the 1995-W will be viewed as a rare United States coin by legions of hobbyists. Remember, there really aren’t that many of them in existence, it’s just that collectors of today don’t hold them in the same high esteem as other rarities. The 1995-W may yet someday assume a place in coin lore, but that time is not now.

In Part II, we’ll do a similar analysis for Uncirculated Silver American Eagles.

Images Used With Permission, Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Read Part II about the Types of American Eagle Rare Dates