The United States Mint introduced American Silver Eagles as bullion coins in 1986 and they have been struck annually ever since. The U.S. Mint also creates the coins for numismatic purposes in both proof and uncirculated conditions. Silver Eagles contain Adolph A. Weinman‘s Walking Liberty design on their obverse and John Mercanti’s reverse of a heraldic eagle with shield.
Each American Silver Eagle is composed from one ounce of 99.9% pure silver with that weight and content guaranteed by the government of the United States (melt values may be found by using the calculator on the right). The $1 face value coins have a total weight of 31.103 grams and a diameter of 40.6 mm.
The American Silver Eagle series was directly authorized by Congress in 1985 under Public Law 99-61 which was brought about by the the passage of the Liberty Coin Act. Under the Act, the Secretary of the Treasury (and thus the United States Mint) was directed to strike one ounce silver coins and offer them for sale:
"to the public at a price equal to the market value of the bullion at the time of sale, plus the cost of minting, marketing, and distributing such coins (including labor, materials, dyes [sic], use of machinery, and overhead expenses)."
Historical American Silver Eagle Coin Melt Values
Along with the bullion Eagles demanded by Congress, the U.S. Mint also opted to strike collector proof American Silver Eagles which also debuted in 1986. The proofs contain the same designs and basic specifications as the bullion coins but feature a proof-like finish with frosted raised surfaces and a mirror-like background. They also include a mintmark which is not present on the bullion Eagles.
The American Silver Eagle line-up was expanded once again in 2006 when the U.S. Mint first introduced the Uncirculated Eagles. These are also considered numismatic or collector issues and are most similar in appearance to the bullion Eagles, except that they include a mintmark like the proof strikes.
All three Eagles showcase the same obverse and reverse imagery, including a depiction of "Walking Liberty" on the obverse as designed by artist Adolph A. Weinman. This design was first seen on 1916-1947 Walking Liberty Half Dollars. Obverse inscriptions include "LIBERTY," "IN GOD WE TRUST" and the year of minting.
The reverse contains a design by former Chief Engraver of the United States Mint John Mercanti. It showcases a heraldic eagle with shield along with the inscriptions of "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA," "1 OZ. FINE SILVER," "ONE DOLLAR" and a mintmark on the proof or uncirculated coins.
Special versions have also been also struck by the United States Mint as part of anniversary celebrations of the program. Specifically, Reverse Proof Silver Eagles have been minted. These coins contain a special finish whereas the raised surfaces are mirror-like and the background area is frosted. They appeared in 2006 as part of the twentieth anniversary of the program and then again in 2011 to celebrate the 25th anniversary year.
American Silver Eagles have a huge following not only among investors who use them as a means to add silver to their portfolios, but also with coin collectors. As the specifications are consistent between the bullion and numismatic version, all have a coin melt value associated with them that is approximately equal to the current spot price of one ounce of silver.