The United States Silver Eagle is the world’s most popular silver bullion coin. In response to this extreme popularity, mintages for the silver eagle have been robust and ever-increasing. To date hundreds of millions of pieces have been struck, with annual production levels now in the tens of millions. The silver eagle, while beautiful and desirable among investors, is by no means scarce. Except in times of extreme demand and physical metal shortages, like the summer of 2015 or spring of 2013, the coin is available in quantity.
Given how abundant and plentiful silver eagles are, there is often skepticism as to whether they can be considered collectibles (and not just solely bullion items). Despite their high mintages, many prior-year silver eagles are actually trading for a substantial numismatic premium. Coins dated as recently as 2014 are starting to command higher prices. This article will explain why the marketplace is beginning to assign collector value to a relatively common coin.
First, despite the huge mintages referenced earlier, there is a tremendous difference between the total quantity of coins minted versus the number of coins in the marketplace. Over the years, the majority of silver eagles were purchased for long-term investment purposes. Many are sitting in bank deposit boxes and depositories. As a result, only a small percentage of the coins minted are in “numismatic” circulation. Some dates, especially those in the 1990s, have mintages in the millions but just a fraction of a percent of the coins are on the open market.
Secondly, backdated silver eagles are less likely to be found in perfect or near-perfect condition. Newly issued coins are almost always flawless or very nearly so. If a sealed monster box of 2015 silver eagles were submitted to PCGS or NGC, chances are that at least 400 coins (if not more than 450) would grade MS69 or MS70. However, those percentages would drop considerably for coins that are 5, 10 or 20 years old. If a box of 1996 silver eagles were submitted for grading, perhaps 200-250 would grade MS69.
A third reason why backdated silver eagles are gaining in premium: non-collectors and non-investors. Being a beautiful and relatively inexpensive coin, silver eagles have a substantial following outside of the numismatic and precious metals communities. They are bought as keepsakes, gifts, mementos to remember specific years, etc. Since they have been made every year since 1986, they have become especially popular as gifts to celebrate birth years for grandchildren. Granted these souvenir and gift purchases may seem insignificant, but they add up and contribute to market premiums.
With such universal appeal and an affordable price point, the silver eagle is finding demand outside of normal coin and bullion circles. Despite having been produced in massive quantities, the demand for backdated silver eagles often eclipses market supply. Indeed, just a miniscule percentage of the coins made are available for sale at any given time. As a result, this seemingly common and plentiful bullion coin has developed a growing numismatic premium.