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The U.S. Mint has many products, none of them unappealing. Yet the American Eagle one-ounce silver proof coin stands out as the top seller. Why?
Don't silver stackers hoard bullion for investment value?
Don't collectors want the most valuable item, which would be the various gold American eagle proof coins?
We're here to try and uncover the mystery.
The second question's a good start. What the American Eagle one-ounce silver proof coin seems to be doing for a lot of people is bridging the gap between investment and collection through affordability and appeal.
Say you were given some stocks or bonds as a gift. Nice, but there's not much to do but wait for them to appreciate. And what about collectibles? In many, many cases, you'd spend a lot of time trying to figure out what they are. Then you'd be wondering if the thing is really all that valuable to begin with.
Here is where the all-purpose nature of the American Eagle silver proof comes through. True to the precious metals' bottom line, it's one of the most popular collectible coins to give, buy or hold. Even the most unfamiliar eye will be able to recognize that the coin is something valuable, appealing to everyone and worth holding onto. Give one of these to a child and they'll clutch it tightly because they've never seen money that looks like treasure before...
The more familiar eye will go on and on about the coin's intricate details and how it's different from other series.
And how can it not? After all, any bullion investor knows that world mints go far out of their way to make proof coins crisp, bright and better-looking than the rest of their products. Proofs are easily discernible from bullion coins on shine alone, and they have a more individual feel to them for various reasons, not the least of which are mintmarks telling us where they were made.
Proof coins are the artisanal, hand-crafted version of an individual coin. Though they look similar to their mass-produced bullion counterparts, they aren't. When you hold a proof silver coin in your hand and really look at it, it feels like the coinsmith paused the presses and sat down to make craft something unique. A numismatic work of art.
And it certainly doesn't hurt that silver eagle proof coins have an intricate design that screams America! from top to bottom.
Adolph Weinman, an immigrant from Germany and student of the legendary sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, created the famous Walking Liberty we see on the face of the American silver eagle.
Liberty strides forward, her right hand outstretched in greeting, draped in an American flag. She bears branches of laurel and oak in her left hand. A rising sun peeks over the horizon behind her.
In Roman times, laurel wreaths were worn by triumphant generals returning from battle. Wreaths of oak leaves were awarded to Roman citizens who saved the lives of their fellow citizens. So a collection of these two branches symbolizes heroism at war and at peace.
You’ll also notice a strange cap or helmet on Liberty’s head. This is a type of headgear called a Phrygian cap (also known as a “liberty cap”), worn by emancipated slaves in ancient Rome.
The rising sun symbolizes new beginnings. Hope.
Do you see how much symbolism, how many ideas about American democracy and ideals are embedded in this design?
And that’s just the obverse! (In my next article, I’ll do a deep dive into the finer points of the silver eagle’s Type 1 and Type 2 reverse designs.)
The quality of the proof silver eagles has made them one of the most sought-after gold and silver coins worldwide, representing the nation on a fairly competitive field. But when it comes down to it, a combination of price and pride is probably what pushed the silver eagle proof ahead of all the competing products.
We keep hearing how silver is grossly undervalued to gold in recent times, with a historically-askew gold-to-silver ratio. Now, that might be truly frustrating for those who’ve been stacking silver for decades in anticipation of a price surge. The good news is, today even a strikingly beautiful collectible like the one-ounce silver proof is accessible to virtually anyone.
Let’s consider the difference… right now, while I’m typing these words, prices are:
Now, not everyone can afford $300 – on the other hand, just about anyone can afford $85. Furthermore, a one ounce coin has a satisfying heft in your hand. It feels substantial. The 1/10 oz eagle gold coins are extremely small by comparison (about the size of a dime). Even though the baby eagle costs nearly four times as much, it just doesn’t have the same presence or charisma. It’s less likely to impress.
And then there’s patriotism. American price – how better to express your love for your nation than by supporting the centuries-old U.S. Mint’s good work?
All in all, we're not surprised that the American Eagle one-ounce silver proof is a top seller, year after year. Everyone wants one, whether to keep or to stack or to give as a gift. Nobody doesn't want it (except, maybe, werewolves?).