The first Silver Eagles were struck in San Francisco in October of 1986. When they went on sale in November of that year, they sold out almost immediately. The obverse features a revised version of the early 20th century walking liberty design by Adolph A. Weinman. The original reverse used from 1986 until 2021 was designed by Chief Engraver John Mercanti and is reminiscent of the United States Great Seal. In 2021, this design was replaced with a new one by illustrator Emily Damstra and features an eagle landing on a branch - similar to the one on the reverse of the 1971 Eisenhower Dollar.
While the design itself has not changed much, American Silver Eagles come in a variety of finishes and fineness. Bullion Eagles do not have special finishes or mint marks, and are not sold directly to the public but to a network of authorized dealers. Brilliant uncirculated (BU) coins also do not have mint marks, but do have a satin or matte finish. Both of these are intended for investing. Proof Eagles, however, are made for the collector - these feature a shiny, mirrored finish and frosted details, highlighting the fineness of the artwork and design.
Though American Silver Eagles are in some ways intended specifically for financiers and investors, the rarity and quality standards of these coins makes them popular collectibles. They are often given as holiday, birthday, anniversary and graduation presents. For many people, American Silver Eagles are an introduction to the world of coin collecting. The variety of finishes and year specific mint marks make it fun to try and compile “the whole set” - especially true when you consider the assortment of anniversary releases and third party grading companies’ special labels. It is for these reasons that American Silver Eagles are uniquely both bullion and collectibles, and appeal to all levels of coin enthusiasts.