What are Silver Eagles?

Christian Petersen
Christian Petersen
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Silver Eagles are silver bullion coins issued by the United States Mint. While rarely if ever used as such, they are actually legal tender, with a face value of one U.S. dollar. This means that they are the only silver bullion coins in the world whose purity and weight are guaranteed by the United States Government. Also known as American Eagle Bullion coins, these coins were first issued in November of 1986 after being authorized by an act of the United States Congress, the Liberty Coin Act of 1985.

As official issue bullion coins, these coins are minted to exacting standards of weight and purity. They contain exactly one troy ounce of silver, 99.9% pure. This standard, guaranteed by the U.S. government means that these coins are highly regarded as an investment and are the only silver coins allowed by U.S. law to be included in an individual retirement account (IRA) portfolio. Bullion coins are generally not highly valued as collectibles, but rather as an investment. Silver Eagles are the rare exception to this as certain varieties have numismatic value because of limited production.

The United States Mint issues these coins regularly each year. They have issued American Eagles in several grades; bullion, proof and uncirculated. Bullion coins have been issued every year since the coin's introduction and are the basic grade, intended for use mainly as investments. Proof coins, which are of a higher quality in terms of finish and strike and are aimed at collectors, have been issued every year except 2009. The uncirculated coin program, which also produced coins aimed at collectors, began in 2006 and ran until 2008.

The design of Silver Eagles is based on a coin designed by Adolph A. Weinman, the Walking Liberty half dollar. First issued in 1916, this coin, which featured a picture of Lady Liberty on the obverse, or front of the coin, is highly sought after by collectors and is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful of all United States coins. This same Weinman design is on the front of the Silver Eagles, but the reverse, or rear of the coin is based on a modern design by John Mercanti and shows a traditional American bald eagle emblem with shield, arrows and stars.

The value of Silver Eagle bullion coins varies according to the spot price of silver on the open market. They are easy to purchase or sell at many coin, jewelry and collectible dealers, as well as on-line. Silver Eagles in bullion grade are not available directly from the U.S. Mint, as these are distributed to a network of retailers and dealers for sale to the public. Collectors may order the uncirculated and proof coins directly from the mint, however.

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