Just like stamps, coin collecting is an easy hobby to pick up. Both have low entry points because these items aren’t hard to find. But if you’re collecting for profit, it helps to do your research. That way, you can distinguish a $20 piece from a $20,000 one. So let’s look into the most valuable silver eagles, knowing that some have recently retailed for over $100,000.
Most Valuable Silver Eagles
Ordinarily, coins hold the value assigned by the government. But bullion coins are evaluated by their weight and size – their value is in the metal once the coin is melted down. That said, collectible coins are prized for their rarity. It’s why coins from benchmark years sell so well.
- Year: 1986 to 2006
- Value: $999
Silver eagles are $1 coins released every year since 1986. They’re minted in limited numbers and are the most collected coins in the US. While certain years are cheap and easily available, you can improve the price by selling a set of 10 or more with coins from consecutive years.
Some collectors want to have a full set of coins for display. They may not be worried about the value of the individual coin – they just want to have them all. Plus, in a few decades, complete sets could be worth a lot. So if that’s your goal, you can buy most coins for $100.
- Year: 1986
- Value: $168.35
Lots of online sellers will give you the option of, say, a 1998 or 1996 coin at that price. But if you’re seeking a particularly rare year, you may have to pay more. This 1986 coin costs a little more. It was the first year the coins were released, so they may appreciate as time passes.
Bullion coins aren’t just for collectors. A lot of us buy them for practical reasons. After all, they’re 99.9% pure silver, so having a cache of coins is a micro version of having solid gold bars and/or lumps of precious metal. It’s a psychological comfort in today’s tough economy.
- Year: 2021
- Value: $202.51
This might be why silver eagle collecting shot up during the Covid years. But as you seek coins, consider their condition and grade, not just the minting year. MS-70 is the highest rating. It means the coin is in mint condition, pun intended, without any flaws or damage.
Silver Eagles were made in three mints – San Francisco, West Point, and Philadelphia. That’s what the S, W, or P refer to on coin listings. If you find a proof coin, it’s worth more. Initially, proof coins were quality control prototypes designed to verify that the mold had no errors.
- Year: 2000
- Value: $179
Another reason for proofs was to have a standardized version for the archives. All other coins would be checked against the proof for accuracy and authenticity. But sometimes, batches of limited edition proofs are produced. These are specifically targeted at silver eagle collectors.
For some of us, silver eagles are our way of owning tangible precious metals. You could also order gold eagles. 1995 was an anniversary year, so the mint released a special collection. It came as a set of gold coins marked $5, $10, $25, and $50, each with its own melting value.
- Year: 1995
- Value: $8,995
If you ordered these four gold coins, you could request the 1995 silver eagle as a bonus. So lots of people got it ‘for free’. But since they were so few, this coin is one of the most valuable silver eagles. The gold and silver coins were proofs, so current pricing depends on condition.
New collectors may be confused about the meaning of reverse coins or reverse proofs. On standard coins, the field (aka the background) is shiny while the device (aka the image, crest, eagle, or Lady Liberty) has a duller, more foggy appearance that’s described as being frosted.
- Year: 2012
- Value: $289
On reverse coins, it’s the device that is shiny while the backdrop is fogged over. So if a coin is, say, the reverse of the previous year (e.g. Reverse of 2007), the mint used the same mold but ‘reversed’ the emphasis by using a highly reflective device on a muted or matte backdrop.
Assuming you don’t want a full set, you may be unsure of which years you should be looking for. As a general rule, anniversary years are good, so look for the 5th, 10th, 20th, or 25th anniversary coins. It helps that these years often have commemorative sets you can invest in.
- Year: 2006
- Value: $649.94
If you’re buying an anniversary year, aim to assemble the complete set, which is often a mix of gold and silver pieces. They might have different melt values and weights in addition to the dollar value. Consider seeking the coins separately then flipping them as a full collection.
What does it mean when you see a listing like this? It has alternative years, so you might be puzzled. Essentially, the seller has multiple coins from the listed years. It’s a useful option if you’re looking to round out your collection by filling any chronological gaps in your set.
- Year: Customised
- Value: $100
But offerings like this may contain lower grade coins so look at the specimens (or their photos) carefully before you buy. A trader may try to slip you something of lower quality, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with the coin grading system. They have protective cases.
To date, the most valuable silver eagle is the 10th anniversary one from 1995. Barely 30,000 were issued so if you can find an MS 70 of this coin, you’ll easily score $100,000 or more. Other good years are 2008 and 2015. But there’s one rarer coin from 1998 that had errors.
- Year: 1995
- Value: $1,670
This silver eagle accidentally used the wrong cast so it’s smaller and lighter than the others and has a smooth rim. That makes it worth at least $100,000 if you can authenticate it. Any other silver eagle from 1998 would probably retail under $50, so inspect the coin carefully!
Another thing you may have noticed as a budding numismatist (that’s a fancy word that means coin collector or coin expert) is the terms circulated and uncirculated. Circulated coins are the normal ones we use to buy and sell stuff. They’re only worth their face value.
- Year: 2001
- Value: $325
This means in essence, a circulated dollar is only worth a dollar, even if you melt it down. But uncirculated coins are commemorative pieces. You can’t use them at Walmart, for example, and you have to order them directly from the mint or buy them from someone else that did.
You might also come across the words burnished or unburnished. A burnished coin is a regular coin with a normal finish. In comparison to an ‘unburnished’ or proof coin, which is far shinier and has a mirror finish, either on the field or on the device (for reverse coins).
- Year: 2017
- Value: $129.95
But burnished coins are still valuable because they have 99.9% silver, just like the proofs. The difference is in the cast quality. Think of it as an HD versus 4K. While both are superior, 4K has deeply enhanced resolution. But both options outshine regular 480p or even 720p.
If you order silver eagles from the US Mint, they come in packs that have the important historical touchpoints from that year. The packaging also has a certificate of authenticity. Extra points if the package still has stamps on it from the USPS. These all verify your coin.
- Year: 1986 to 2021
- Value: $1,879.95
Even if you don’t have the original shipping pack, having a complete set can add value. This is a crucial sales tip, particularly if some of the coins are common specimens. Get a display album and slot in your coins for best results. This sample has every coin from 1986 to 2021.
What do all those letters on coin listings mean? We’ve already mentioned the P, W, and S to say where the coin was minted. 1986 coins don’t have these, because there was only one mint at the time. The MS means Mint State for regular coins. PF is Proof Issues for proof coins.
- Year: 2021
- Value: $350
These are the best quality coins. Other letters confirm who evaluated the coin – either the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) or the Professional Coin Grading Service (PGCS). The Sheldon grading scale goes from 1 to 70, invented by Dr. William Sheldon in 1948.
For professional collectors and traders, you want coins that are MS or PF. Other grades include AU, F, VX, VG, XF, G, PO, AG, and FR. The lowest quality coins are ungradable and smudged. You may also see Plus Grades for coins between 45 and 68 on the Sheldon scale.
- Year: 2008
- Value: $560
These coins have good visual value but have too much damage to be seriously considered by collectors. Entry-level collectors might be okay with these, especially if they don’t have the budget for exceptional coins. Notably, an SP marking means it’s a coin from 1792 to 1816.
The SP we’ve just mentioned stands for Specimen. And it’s a separate category because the earlier coin technology was different. They didn’t have the uniform filmy quality of today’s coins. But sometimes, newer coins are designated SP, particularly from the West Point.
- Year: 2006
- Value: $489
These latter-day SP coins were re-classified in 2015. Previously, they were classed as MS but the designation changed to suit market needs. These coins were attracting the interest of collectors even though evaluators dismissed them. So that SP mark pandered to the public.
When someone produces a fake silver eagle, it might have weird letters and numbers in the grade. Remember, MS only applies for coins between 60 and 70 that are minted in the same style and design as regular circulated coins. So if your coin says MS34, it’s a counterfeit.
- Year: 1994
- Value: $395
The next grade down is AU – About Uncirculated – and ranges from 50 to 58. Keep in mind some grade numbers don’t exist, so that’s another way to spot a fake. As an example, the only valid AUs are 50, 53, 55, and 58. Finally, a PL rating means it has a proof-like mirror finish.
In terms of usage, proof coins are higher in quality and deeper in detail and definition. That adds to their selling price. PL coins might be categorized as Cameo or Ultra Cameo (which is sometimes called Deep Cameo). The marking describes the quality of the coin’s mirror finish.
- Year: 1996
- Value: $89.95
Right now, you may be looking to buy a single coin. But bullion coins were originally treasured for their solid metal value, so buyers would sometimes order by the tens or hundreds. At that level, you care less about ratings and more about their melted value.
Once you start moving in numismatic circles, you might hear the word planchet tossed around. Think of this as a ‘blank coin’ before the images and words are added. Earlier, we talked about that rare 1998 coin. It was cast on a .900 planchet instead of the standard size.
- Year: 2011
- Value: $93
Older documents may refer to a planchet as a flan. It means the same thing, but it’s an outdated term that hardly anyone uses now. And of course, regular folk just call them blanks. To complete the coin, a planchet is pressed or struck using dies made of hardened steel.
1995 silver eagles are popular for four reasons. One, they were the most limited batch. Two, as we said before, you technically got them for free. Three, they were the first silver eagles from the Philadephia mint. All the earlier coins were minted at the San Francisco HQ.
- Year: 2010
- Value: $250
The fourth reason is that 1995 was an anniversary year – the 10th one. Similarly, 2006 coins were the first ones to come out of West Point, so that’s another landmark event. Curiously, burnished coins were sold in bullion batches of 500 while proofs were special edition singles.
Do you have any advice about valuable silver eagles? Share your tips in the comment section!