The American Silver Eagle series has firmly established itself since its debut in 1986 as one of the most widely collected modern U.S. silver coins. Interest in the series has been even higher than usual recently.
Demand for the bullion version increased sharply in the past year as silver spot prices rose substantially during the coronavirus pandemic. The United States Mint has had difficulty meeting the demand for those coins, leading the Mint to expand production of bullion issues to mints that are not typically used for that purpose.
Notably, the 2021-W Proof American Silver Eagle, which had a product limit of 327,440 coins as stated on the Mint’s website, unexpectedly sold out within minutes of going on sale on February 11, 2021.
However, perhaps the key factor that will drive interest in this series in the coming year and beyond is the introduction of a new reverse design sometime around the middle of the year that features an eagle as it is about to land. That new design was created by Emily Damstra, a member of the Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program, and will replace the original heraldic eagle reverse design created by former United States Mint Chief Engraver John Mercanti, which has been used on the series since its debut.
The new design will appear on type 2 versions of the bullion, Proof, and burnished uncirculated versions, and potentially on other finishes.
Silver Eagle key dates and sleepers
These developments will likely result in many new collectors of the series in the coming months and year, which will mean more people seeking the limited number of coins that are key dates and/or sleepers.
A key date is one of the coins with the lowest mintage and usually high demand within a coin series. A sleeper is simply a coin perceived as an undervalued coin by collectors and numismatic experts who specialize in the series.
There is widespread agreement on what are key dates in some cases, while in others, opinions vary, something also true of sleeper coins.
One approach focuses on the coins that are the lowest mintage within each subtype within the Silver Eagle series, which includes coins like the 1996 bullion coin that is the lowest mintage of that subtype of Silver Eagle.
However, Silver Eagle mintages alone do not shape which coins are seen as keys or are most in demand. An example of this would be the 1986 bullion coin in demand as the first year of issue coin and typically sells for the second-highest premium after 1996, yet its mintage is not one of the lowest.
It will be interesting to see in the future if the various type 2 2021 Silver Eagles, as the first of their type, also end up being in greater demand than the type 2 coins that will be issued in future years.
Major Key Date Silver Eagles
Overall, within a series that now includes around 100 different coins issued in a range of different finishes, there are various other key coins within different segments of the series.
One could consider a significant key date issues with mintages under 100,000 coins, and a special factor to it. This category currently includes: two coins that are likely to remain the kings of the series, the 1995 Proof only coin and 2019-S Enhanced Reverse Proof with respective mintages of 30,120 and 29,910, according to the U.S. Mint. The 2019 coin appears to be a sleeper since it sells for only a fraction of the 1995 coin. However, it is also more readily available in the marketplace than the older coin. Even if it is undervalued today, it is not likely to reach the same value as the 1995 coin, but more likely will be somewhere between today’s value for the two coins.
Another coin that many collectors have said in online forums and other discussions is likely a sleeper that is also a key date, as it the third-lowest mintage coin of the series, is the 2008-W with Reverse of 2007 Burnished Uncirculated coin. That coin has a mintage of just 46,318 coins – a number that comes from a Freedom of Information Act request that a collector filed years ago. In addition to the fact that this coin seems like it should be valued higher than it is today based on its mintage compared to other key dates, it is also worth remembering that not all of these coins have yet been discovered, so the actual supply of coins in the market is less than the stated mintage.
The next key coin is the 2020-W V75 75th Anniversary of World War II Proof with a mintage of 75,000 coins. The final two are from the 2011 25th Anniversary Silver Eagle set, including the 2011-S mint state coin (the only S-mint marked mint state coin in the series) and the 2011-P Reverse Proof (also the lowest for that finish), which both have a mintage of 99,882.
Other Silver Eagle Sleepers
Two other categories within this series may also be considered undervalued today. They are the Burnished Uncirculated coins issued since 2006, and specific dates of Proof coins graded Proof 70.
As for the Burnished issues, this subset within the series is shorter and often more accessible to collect than others, such as the complete bullion or Proof subsets. One collecting strategy would be to acquire each Burnished coin in Mint State 70, which many may consider affordable, especially since Mint State 70 examples usually carry a relatively small premium over raw coins in this case.
Compared to their bullion and Proof counterparts, many burnished coins seem like they may be undervalued today. This is especially true for the 2017-W, 2018-W, and 2019-W coins with respective mintages of 176,739, 138,947, and 154,868 (all mintages from U.S. Mint sales reports).
As for the Proof coins, keep in mind that the Mint’s coin production technology has continued to advance over the years. Today’s Proof coins and others from the past decade tend to be of higher quality than those from the series’ earlier years. This makes Proof 70 examples from those earlier years often harder to find. However, when compared to their census or population reports numbers (which change as more coins are graded), certain dates of Proof 70s may be considered undervalued today. Some specific dates from the late 1980s and 1990s, such as 1988, 1989, 1998, and 1999, have certified populations under 3,000 coins at NGC but can be obtained for between $200-$240 today based on the NGC Price Guide and Census.
Silver Eagles graded Proof 70 from 2001 to 2005, only have NGC populations ranging from about 6,000 to 20,000 yet are available today for between $95-$135. Keep in mind that coins from more recent years have populations in that grade that are much higher, as much as 65,000 or more, are also priced about $100 each in the top grade.
More recent dates are more readily available in Proof 70, whereas it may take some effort to find earlier dates in the top grade depending on which label one wants and whether a buyer wants to see the coin in hand before purchasing.
Finally, as we head toward the debut of the type 2 reverse Silver Eagles and celebrate the 35th anniversary of this legendary series, the Mint may surprise collectors with some new coins that could become key dates or sleepers. Only the test of time and collector demand will tell the fate of the silver eagle sleepers and key dates discussed in this article!