What are “Emergency” Silver Eagles?

If you have started looking around for 2021 silver eagles, you may have seen “emergency” silver eagles advertised for sale…

by Larry White of the Gold & Silver Education Center

If you have started looking around for 2021 silver eagles, you may have seen “emergency” silver eagles advertised for sale. The obvious question that may arise is – What in the world is an “emergency” silver eagle? Other questions would likely follow such as – What makes them different from regular silver eagles? Also – Do I want an emergency silver eagle? In this article, we will explore the world of “emergency” silver eagles.

The first thing to understand is that emergency silver eagles are exactly the same coin as the standard regular bullion silver eagle produced by the US Mint at its West Point facility each year. There is no visible difference between the regular bullion coins and the emergency coins. The coins you may see marketed as emergency silver eagles were just minted at other facilities than the West Point Mint facility. In most years, all bullion silver eagles are made at the West Point facility. In some years, when there is more demand for silver eagles than the West Point facility can keep up with, the mint will allow some coins to be struck in San Francisco or Philadelphia. These coins are marketed as unique “emergency” silver eagles because they are only made at those other mints when an “emergency” arises for the US Mint in trying to meet demand for the coins. This article in CoinWorld explains what happened to create emergency silver eagles in 2021. 

It is important to understand that all of these coins, no matter where they were minted, bear no mint mark at all and they all look exactly the same. Regular bullion silver eagles made at West Point never carry a mint mark. Additional “emergency” bullion coins minted in San Francisco or Philadelphia do not carry a mint mark either. 

So, you may ask, how can anyone sell some of these coins minted in San Francisco or Philadelphia as unique, as if they did have a mint mark? It is possible for dealers to do this because the US Mint does provide a list of the box numbers of the silver eagles made at each facility. With that information, a dealer can identify a particular box of 500 coins (called a monster box) as coming from San Francisco or Philadelphia. The dealer must then make sure the unopened sealed box of 500 coins is sent directly to a third party coin grading service such as PCGS or NGC. If the proper paper work is provided, the grading services can then place the coins in a sealed holder and put a label on the coin holder that tells where it was minted. This is the only way anyone can certify where these coins were minted. Any coin not certified this way cannot be proven to be from a particular mint and could have come from any of the three mints. 

Now you may ask, Why does this matter? After all, these are all identical bullion silver eagle coins, so what difference does it make if you identify where they were minted? For most people, it probably would not matter. Someone new to investing in silver eagles likely just wants an ungraded coin since those are far less expensive. They probably will not care where it was minted. Some collectors however do care about mint marks, because it can be established that fewer coins were minted in San Francisco or Philadelphia than at West Point. So, the label identifying where the coin was made makes it rarer in the eyes of those collectors. This may seem odd to someone new to this, but thousands of these coins are marketed and sold for a much higher premium than the ungraded coins which have no way to determine where they were minted. 

I will let the reader answer the question – Do I want an emergency silver eagle? The answer to that depends on whether you want just a bullion coin for its silver content or a coin that the collector marketplace sells for a significant numismatic premium (based on lower mintage figures for the coin). How much premium you ask? Well, there are versions of this emergency coin that sell for $800 from the Philadelphia mint. The only thing different about this coin selling for over $800 from any other regular bullion silver eagle is the label on its certification holder. Collectors who buy this coin are willing to pay extra for that label even though the coin itself is the same as any other regular bullion silver eagle with no mint mark on the coin.

Let me be clear. It is not our purpose here to advise anyone to buy or not buy any silver eagle coin or try to tell anyone which version of a coin to buy. Those are personal decisions everyone should make based on their own goals and objectives. But, if you are in the market for silver eagles, it is good to know all this. 

As we pointed out in an earlier article – Understanding the US Mint – a lot of different versions of silver eagles are made every year. Many of them carry much higher premiums for a variety of numismatic reasons. Someone just interested in the coins for their metal content will not care about all the higher premium versions of the coins. With so many different versions available, it can be confusing. It can be even more confusing when there is no visual difference in the appearance of the coins, not even a mint mark.

The goal here is to try and provide accurate information to assist potential buyers so they are well informed about any coins they do purchase and perhaps help reduce some confusion. 

You can look at examples to get a feel for the different price points for these three versions of the 2021 bullion silver eagle.

Added note: 2021 is a really interesting year for silver eagles because in the middle of this year, the US Mint is going to issue a silver eagle with a new reverse side for the first time since they began selling them in 1986. So this year, you will see all the following versions of a one ounce silver eagle:

  • regular bullion coin minted at West Point (old style reverse -see link above)
  • regular bullion coin minted in San Francisco (old style reverse -see link above) – “emergency”
  • regular bullion coin minted in Philadelphia (old style reverse – see link above) – “emergency”
  • regular “proof” silver eagle, a collector version of the coin (old style reverse) (Sold out)
  • regular “burnished” silver eagle, another collector version (new style reverse)
  • regular bullion coin minted at West Point (new style reverse -not sold directly to the public)
  • regular “proof” silver eagle (new style reverse)   W-Mint  &  S-Mint
  • it is possible some of the new reverse style coins could be made by various mints as well
  • also, a collector two coin set with both types of 2021 Silver eagles is planned

So this year will be especially potentially confusing to someone entering the silver eagle market for the first time. If you have a question on all these versions of the silver eagle, please feel free to email me at  [email protected] If I know the answer, I am happy to share it.