In 1995, the United States Mint celebrated the Silver Eagle program by introducing a special five-piece 10th Anniversary Eagle proof set. The 10th Anniversary set was comprised of four Gold Eagles and a special one-ounce proof Silver Eagle bearing the "W" mint mark. The 1995-W would be the first Silver Eagle to bear the W mint mark and would have the lowest mintage for any Silver Eagle ever produced by the U.S. Mint.
45,000 sets were authorized for the five-piece set containing the 1995-W Silver Eagle, but far less were sold. Consequently, the 1995-W Proof Silver Eagle has become the rarest and most desirable of all Silver Eagles.
The obverse of the 1995-W as well as all other U.S. Silver Eagles would continue the retro trend to revert back to 1917 and continue throughout 1947, depicting Adolph A. Weiman's prominent Walking Liberty design for the circulating half dollar series. The reverse would illustrate an artistic large heraldic eagle designed by re-known sculptor John Mercanti. The initial introduction by Mercanti would illustrate a beautiful three-sided heraldic eagle. Notably, the final version would portray a full frontal view as currently seen on all U.S. Silver Eagles. Above the eagle 13 stars and in front of the eagle is a large shield with 13 stripes, both representing the original 13 colonies.
The only way to obtain the low-mintage 1995-W Silver Eagle directly from the U.S. Mint would be by purchasing the entire Eagle proof set offered by the Mint that year. The Mint offered the four-gold piece set at $999 and as a free bonus buyers could choose to receive the special five-piece set, which included the 1995-W Silver Eagle. The accompanying 1995-W Gold Eagles had the following mintages: 46,484 for the one ounce, 45,442 for the half ounce, 47,484 for the quarter ounce, and 62,673 for the tenth ounce.
Although Gold Proof Eagles have relatively low mintages, they do not command substantial premiums over melt, as is now the case with the 1995-W Silver Eagle. One notable reason could be the fact that most Silver Eagles are much cheaper in price than Gold Eagles due in part to their much lower melt value. In return, Silver Eagles attract collectors with different budgets by allowing them to own examples of different years. For Silver Eagles, just about anyone can own an example for most years, but Gold Eagles require a significantly larger budget.
To illustrate, as of this writing a regular 2007 four-piece gold proof set will cost $1,449.95 directly from the U.S. Mint, compared to a proof silver eagle that costs $29.95 each. For the same price, you can purchase 50 2007 proof Silver Eagles! Another alluring aspect for the Silver Eagle series that should be considered is the coins are only offered in a one-ounce version composed of .9993 silver and .0007 copper. Unlike Gold Eagles currently offered in four different denominations, which also adds up financially, especially if collecting them by year and denomination, Silver Eagles attract many investors since it can be an inexpensive way to own precious metals.
Many people who are collecting Silver Eagles are building complete sets. To complete a Silver Eagle proof set, collectors need to acquire the 1995-W Silver Eagle. With a low mintage of 30,125 in one of the most widely collected modern U.S. coin series, attaining this piece will become a great challenge. As of this writing, the PCGS Price Guide retails this coin for well over $4,500. Interestingly, it is the most expensive coin in the set and even more expensive than the regular complete set without including the 1995-W!
When the U.S. Mint first sold the 10th Anniversary Set, many Silver Eagle collectors purchased the set and sold the gold coins close to their intrinsic values. Therefore, the 1995-W Silver Eagle automatically created its own market in the $200 range right from its inception, even though it was offered for free by the U.S. Mint to these purchasing a Gold Eagle Proof Set.
Subsequent to the 10th Anniversary Eagle program, the Mint did not celebrate a 20th Anniversary for 2005. Instead, they celebrated the 20th Anniversary in 2006, making things more confusing for Eagle collectors. Since the program first started in 1986, its 10th Anniversary would have been completed in 1996, but instead the Mint used 1995 as the 10thAnniversary by counting 1986 as the first completed year instead of using 1987 as the first complete year. The argument can actually be made for either 1995 or 1996 being the true 10th anniversary. For the anticipated 20th Anniversary Program, they used a different method by actually counting a year after 1986 as the first complete year, and in return, offering special 20th Anniversary Eagle options for 2006.
Offering the 1995-W Silver Eagle with the Gold Eagle proof sets could have been a strategy used by the U.S. Mint to encourage silver collectors to purchase Gold Eagles or visa versa. Originally, Canada was the leading force for gold bullion coins by first offering Canadian Maple Leafs in 1979. At the same time, Mexico was producing a one-ounce silver bullion coin, the Mexican "Onza." The U.S. Mint wanted to receive its own share of the bullion coin market, so it began offering Gold and Silver Eagles in 1986. Canada would enter the silver bullion market two years after the U.S. Proof Silver Eagles were introduced by the U.S. Mint.
Since 1986, the U.S. Mint has offered Proof Silver Eagles at a significant premium over silver spot metal prices. Unlike mint state Silver Eagles, Proof Silver Eagles are offered directly to the public through a select group of authorized dealers. American Proof Silver Eagles have a set maximum mintage, but the mint state coins are sold in whatever quantity meets the demand.
To date, the Philadelphia, San Francisco and West Point mints have all produced Proof Silver Eagles. The Denver Mint is the only active mint that has not produced any modern eagles. All Proof Silver Eagles have their mint mark located on the reverse, below the eagle's right talon. From 1986 to 1992, Proof Silver Eagles were produced at San Francisco and from 1993 to 2000 at Philadelphia (with the exception of the 1995-W Silver Eagle, which was produced at West Point). From 2001 to date, Proof Silver Eagles have been produced at the West Point Mint with the exception of the 2006 Reverse Proof, which was produced at Philadelphia. This offers collectors an opportunity to collect Silver Eagles by date, mintmark, and in proof or uncirculated versions. Silver Eagles are currently the most affordable coins in the U.S. Mint's Eagle Program, both in uncirculated and proof versions.
Currently, there are active bids from dealer to dealer on CCE (Certified Coin Exchange) with multiple offers on the 1995-W Proof Silver Eagle. Some of the active bidders will be very cautious when purchasing raw pieces or original advertised sets, since the elusive 1995-W can be switched with a regular 1995 Silver Eagle Proof not bearing the distinguished "W" mint mark. Leaving the coins in the original packaging and capsules does not guarantee that the coins will not be damaged. Having the coins authenticated by PCGS is a great way of protecting your coins.
There are great opportunities when purchasing modern issues offered by the U.S. Mint if you do your homework and pick the right coins. The 1995-W has been the biggest winner in the Eagle program so far, but who knows what the future may bring?