A Demand For Silver
America's silver coinage contained 90% silver until 1965. Then, the international silver market skyrocketed, and the coins became worth more for their precious metal content than their face value. Worldwide demand for silver far outpaced production. Even industrial consumption was massive, for use in photographic film, electronic components, and batteries.
However, the greatest demand came in the form of silver coins. This had greatly increased in the U.S. due to a severe coin shortage. Commerce would have ground to a halt had it not been for the Treasury's 1964 emergency production increase – two mints began operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! This kept enough silver coins circulating until the Coinage Act of 1965 could be introduced. That Act reduced or eliminated silver from America's coins. Dimes and quarters were changed to a copper-nickel composition, while the silver content of half dollars and dollar coins was reduced to 40%. Later, in 1971, half dollars and dollars shifted to a copper-nickel composition as well.
The Return of America's Silver Dollars
A.A. Weinman's Liberty Walking design appears on the obverse of the American Eagle silver dollar, with John Mercanti's Heraldic Eagle on the reverse.
The government recognized the continued demand for silver coins by collectors and investors. As a result, the U.S. entered the international silver bullion market in the mid-1980s. President Ronald Reagan signed the Liberty Coin Act in 1985 authorizing America's new silver bullion coin. It was to contain one Troy ounce of 99.93% silver (virtually pure), as opposed to the 90% content of earlier silver dollars. The Act also specified that the silver bullion coin's obverse would bear a representation of Liberty, while the reverse would depict an American eagle. One of the most popular U.S. coin designs was chosen for the obverse – Adolph A. Weinman's beautiful Liberty Walking design used on half dollars of 1916-1947. For the reverse, John Mercanti created a stunning heraldic eagle inspired by the Great Seal of the United States.
Both designs were enthusiastically received when the silver American Eagle debuted in 1986. These silver bullion coins have been struck annually ever since, and have been issued by the Philadelphia, San Francisco, and West Point Mints. The Proof versions all bear a mint mark and are made available from the U.S. Mint. Traditional Uncirculated versions do not have a mint mark, and are available only through dealers like Littleton Coin Company.
Production of silver American Eagle Proofs was moved to the West Point Mint in 2001.
The "Reverse Proof" silver American Eagles of 2006 feature mirrorlike design elements set off against a frosted field.
During the original years of the series, silver American Eagle Proofs were struck at the San Francisco Mint. Proof production shifted to the Philadelphia Mint in 1993, then moved once more, to the West Point Mint, in 2001. To honor the series' 20th anniversary, in 2006 special "Reverse Proof" coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint. True to their name, Reverse Proofs feature mirrorlike design elements set off against a frosted field. Reverse Proofs were also issued in 2012 as part of a special 2-coin set from the San Francisco Mint.
Occasionally since 2006, special-issue "burnished" silver American Eagles have been released. Burnished coins are made to exacting standards using a special minting process. Each of these magnificent silver bullion issues is struck on a special hand fed, burnished (polished) blank, giving it a unique shimmering finish. These special-issue coins are highly prized by collectors.
Today, silver American Eagles are the most popular modern silver dollar coins in the world. They are still prized by investors because of their fine silver content, but they are most appreciated by coin collectors who enjoy the magic of America's silver dollars!
See all American Eagle silver dollars