What Is A Burnished Silver Eagle?

Have you ever wondered what is meant by the term ‘Burnished Silver Eagle’? You may be familiar with American Silver Eagle coins, but are unsure how a ‘burnished’ one is different, and what sets the Burnished Silver Eagle apart from other editions of this coin.

A Burnished Silver Eagle is an uncirculated, limited-release edition of the popular silver bullion American Silver Eagle coins. The term ‘Burnished’ refers to the specially polished coin blank these specific Silver Eagles are minted from, resulting in a softer, matte finish.

Although many similarities can be identified between Burnished Silver Eagles and their bullion counterparts, they should certainly be regarded in their own right, and never overlooked. Read on to discover all you need to know about these fascinating coins.

What Is An American Silver Eagle?

Since its debut in 1986, the American Silver Eagle has grown to be recognized as one of the leading varieties of silver bullion coins worldwide. It’s also still the official silver bullion of the United States.

Over the years, several different variations of American Silver Eagles have been released, including bullion and proof versions, alongside coins minted with a specialty finish. That’s where the Burnished Silver Eagles come in.

What Is Burnishing?

The term ‘burnishing’ refers to the specialized process from which coins may be minted. This process gives the coins a unique and attractive finish, and has been used to create annual limited releases of collectible American Silver Eagle editions. The first Burnished Silver Eagle was released in 2006, stopping in 2008, and beginning again in 2011, with annual releases ever since.

Burnished coins may not only be made of silver, but also gold or platinum. Read on to discover how coins are minted using the burnishing process, and understand the beauty of the finished result.

How Are Burnished Coins Made?

This process of burnishing begins by feeding a strip of metal (for Burnished Silver Eagles that metal would, of course, be silver) through a special press, which punches blank discs out of the metal into their intended weight. These “blanks” are known as planchets, and are simply plain rounds waiting to be struck into a coin.

From here, the planchets are placed into a large spinning drum to undergo a specialized cleaning and polishing procedure. Within this drum are millions of tiny balls which work to eliminate any rough patches, scratches or imperfections from the coin’s surface.

This process of polishing the coins with the abrasiveness of the balls results in the coin blank having the matte-like finish best associated with burnished coins – but more on the coins’ appearance later!

From the drum, each planchet is hand-loaded into a press one at a time. This press is the machine that will strike the coins a single time, giving them their iconic eagle designs. From here, the finished, burnished coins are ready for shipment, and are sent to be carefully sealed and officially classified before they are finally issued.

Throughout every step of the minting process, burnished coins are carefully monitored, weighed, and inspected. Gloves are always worn by anyone who may handle the coins to avoid the damaging transfer of any dirt, and any imperfections are noticed immediately.

Therefore, we can rest assured that all Burnished Silver Eagles are going to be of the most perfect quality, in pristine condition and minted with the most attentive of care.

Other Notable Issues Of Burnished Coins

The Burnished American Eagles – both in silver and gold – are the coins most associated with the burnishing process. After all, they were the very first coins to be struck from this method in a US mint, back in 2006.

Like Burnished Silver Eagles, Burnished Gold Eagles were also first minted in 2006. They are still issued to this day, but the same cannot be said for the Burnished Platinum Eagles, which were only produced for a very short amount of time. The US Mint ceased the production of these platinum coins in 2008, and there have been no reports that they will make a return in the future.

However, the process has been used to create other special editions of certain coin series. One example would be the popular, scenic series of America the Beautiful quarter-dollars, of which burnished editions have been released in a limited quantity. Outside of the US, the iconic Canadian Silver Maple Leafs have also had burnished releases.

With the high value and increasing popularity of burnished coins, it will be interesting to see whether more coin series produce burnished issues in the future.

Other Ways Burnishing May Be Used

The process of burnishing is not unique to coins. In fact, the process of heavily polishing a metal to give it that shiny, matte finish is also used in other industries, too, such as in jewelry making.

Interestingly, but not at all in relevance to numismatics, the term “burnishing” is also used in construction. In this context, “burnishing” would refer to a particular finishing of concrete used on commercial, industrial and residential buildings to provide a lustrous yet hard-wearing result.

Design And Appearance Of Burnished Silver Eagles

The overall design of a Burnished Silver Eagle matches the American Silver Eagle almost identically, with just a few notable differences. Its burnished appearance, however, is what really sets it apart.

Coin Specifications

American Silver Eagles – burnished or otherwise – are minted from a composition of 99.9% fine silver per one troy ounce coin. Their diameter is 40.6 mm, to a thickness of 2.98 mm. American Silver Eagles have reeded edges, and a face value of one US dollar.

The Obverse Of The Coin

The obverse of an American Silver Eagle shows the refreshed design of Adolph A. Weinman’s “Walking Liberty”. This patriotic design depicts Liberty confidently striding towards dawn, wrapped in the flag of Stars and Stripes. In her hand, she is carrying branches of oak and laurel, which are said to symbolize civility and glory.

The Walking Liberty Half Dollar coin featured Weinman’s original design. This coin was minted between 1916 and 1947. Decades later, numismatists were delighted to see it be revived to take place on the American Silver Dollar.

Also boldly inscribed on the coin’s obverse are the words ‘LIBERTY’ and ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’. Finally, the coin’s year of issue is inscribed at the bottom center of the coin.

The Reverse Of The Coin

Since 2021, the reverse side of an American Silver Eagle has depicted the image of the iconic and majestic eagle landing on a branch, in a design by Emily Damstra. Around the circumference of the coin are the inscribed words ‘UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – ONE DOLLAR – 1 OZ. FINE SILVER’.

Under the eagle’s wing is the traditional United States motto ‘E PLURIBUS UNUM’, which translates from Latin as ‘Out of many, one’.

Prior to 2021, all American Silver Eagles minted since 1986 featured a patriotic portrayal of a heraldic eagle behind a shield, calling unmistakable reference to the Great Seal of the United States. The eagle held arrows and an olive branch in its talons, with a banner in its beak stating the motto ‘E PLURIBUS UNUM’.

Thirteen five-pointed stars sit above the eagle, each representing one of the Thirteen American Colonies. The coin’s country, face value and purity value are also inscribed around the crest.

The Burnished Effect

However, it is the burnished finish which makes this variety of American Silver Eagles so unique. The burnished finish gives the coins a matte look, making their overall appearance softer, and less frosty than their proof or bullion counterparts.

If you know what to look for, Burnished Silver Eagles can be instantly recognized when placed side-by-side with their bullion counterparts. This is considerably easier when viewing the coins in person, as their unique finish is harder to identify in photographs. Up close, many will attest that a greater level of detail can be seen on the engravings of burnished coins, too.

All American Silver Eagles are stunning and majestic coins in their own right, but the Burnished editions are particularly dazzling.

The Mint Mark

Another key feature which sets Burnished Silver Eagles apart from the traditional Eagles is the unique mintmark they each bear, etched on to the reverse side of every coin.

In fact, all burnished coins carry the mint mark ‘W’, indicative that they were struck at the West Point Mint in New York. Burnished Silver Eagles are no exception to this, and this feature is yet another which sets them aside from their bullion American Eagle counterparts.

However, there is one sole exception to this mint mark rule. In 2011, in celebration of twenty-five years of production, a special minting of the Burnished Silver Eagle was released as part of a commemorative “American Eagle 25th Anniversary Silver Coin Set”.

The notable thing about this release was that the coins were minted at the US Mint in San Francisco. This meant they bore an ‘S’ mint mark instead of the traditional ‘W’. This difference, despite how tiny it appears on the coin, identifies this special issue as so much rarer in comparison with all the other Burnished Silver Eagles, making it particularly sought-after and valued amongst collectors.

Burnished Or Uncirculated?

The term “burnished” in this context was actually coined by the numismatic community. Not to cause confusion here, but it is important to note that the US Mint do not actually use the term “burnished” to describe coins which have been minted using the process of burnishing, and instead will use the term “uncirculated”. 

Of course, Burnished Silver Eagles are sold in pristine condition and not placed into general circulation, but according to the US Mint the term “uncirculated” also refers to the specialized process described above, known by numismatics as “burnishing”.

For reference, it is helpful to know that the US Mint categorizes its coins into four different groups: bullion, proof, circulating, and uncirculated. The latter, therefore, would be the variety we can recognize as “burnished”.

This is why, if searching for Burnished Silver Eagles to purchase, you should be aware that they could be listed as “Uncirculated Silver Eagles”. If in doubt, it is advisable to seek clarification from the trader.

Why Burnished Silver Eagles Are So Rare

One of the main desirable qualities drawing the numismatic community towards Burnished Silver Eagles is their rarity. Not only are the coins fairly recent additions to the history of American Silver Eagles, but they are minted in such low numbers each year that they are also one of the rarest editions too. But just how rare are Burnished Silver Eagles?

In total, ever since their creation in 2006, only slightly more than 4,000,000 Burnished Silver Eagles have been minted, with less than 300,000 minted each year since 2011. On average, this means they are therefore about fifty times as rare as the American Silver Eagle bullion coins.

Even proof versions of the coins don’t compare in terms of rarity, as twice as many of these are minted than the burnished variety each year. To put this figure into perspective, consider that, in 2020, more than 31,000,000 bullion American Silver Eagles were released. Whereas only 4,000,000 Burnished Silver Eagles have been released – ever.

That is quite a difference! This figure illustrates just how rare Burnished Silver Eagles are. And, as we know with many collectibles, and indeed almost anything people look to buy, it is often the case that the lower the supply, the higher the demand.

The Value Of A Burnished Silver Eagle

Throughout numismatics, the value of coins is a relative matter. Like most coins, Burnished Silver Eagles may be valued based on their desirability for collectors and their attractiveness as an investment piece, as well as having an actual face value themselves.

Nominal Value

All US Silver Eagle coins are considered legal tender in the United States, with a face value of $1. This means that a person could technically – and legally – use Silver Eagles to pay for things if they really wanted to.

However, it would be extremely ill-advised to redeem a coin of such high intrinsic and collectible worth for such a low amount, not least since the likelihood is that the coin’s owner came to possess it for much more than a dollar themselves.

If one was to try to use a Silver Eagle – burnished or otherwise – to make a purchase, it would more than likely be rejected anyway, owing to the fact that it is very difficult to prove their authenticity without being a numismatic specialist.

Purchase Value

A perfect grade Burnished Silver Eagle costs roughly $200. Taking into account their rarity, high purity and their not-to-be-snubbed-at intrinsic value (to be discussed below), $200 is usually regarded as a very reasonable amount to pay for this type of coin.

This is why Burnished Silver Eagles shouldn’t be overlooked by those wishing to invest in silver coins, as they offer so much value for an initial price that won’t break the bank. For beginner and seasoned coin investors alike, the Burnished Silver Eagle is certainly one to consider if it’s within your budget.

Intrinsic Value & Investment Appeal

As with all investments, it’s very important to be aware that financial return is never guaranteed. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the potential intrinsic value Burnished Silver Eagles may possess.

Owing to their composition of 99.9% pure fine silver, all editions of American Silver Eagles are often considered good options for investment. That almost completely pure silver content leads to the coins being highly desirable additions to any portfolio of precious metals, as it means their intrinsic value is likely to remain strong.

Furthermore, this purity is officially certified by the US Mint, guaranteed by the United States Government and even enforced by the US Secret Service. This level of national recognition and authenticity adds yet another level of appeal for investors, perhaps even providing assurance for those who are less numismatically minded.

The intrinsic value of Silver Eagles is dependent on the spot price of silver at any given time. This is ever-fluctuating, meaning that the worth of a coin could technically change daily. For this reason, anyone purchasing Silver Eagles for investment purposes should be prepared to strategize when it comes to buying and selling.

Of course, the rarity of Burnished Silver Eagles means that they are likely to be even more desirable amongst collectors than bullion or proof American Silver Eagles. Because of this, even if the price of silver drops, there is still a high chance that the coins will still sell for a competitive sum to dealers.

We can’t predict what coin prices will look like in the future. But if an investor were to be considering the collectible value of a coin as an insurance incase its intrinsic value dropped, Burnished Silver Eagles may be something to consider over bullion or proof American Silver Eagle releases.

Collectible Value

Thanks to their considerable rarity, which we explored earlier in this article, Burnished Silver Eagles are very highly desired amongst collectors. Particularly due to the fact that the Eagles are minted annually with their year of issue inscribed under the depiction of Liberty on each coin, there may be a particular appeal for those wishing to assemble collection sets by date.

Not only that, but American Silver Eagles have an undeniable beauty to them, which is only heightened by the burnished effect on the uncirculated coins. For collectors who select their coins based on aesthetic appearance, Burnished Silver Eagles are likely to be firm contenders.

Burnished Silver Eagles are specially minted and released editions of a world-renowned and iconic series of collectible coins. Their low supply is always met by a high demand, and their value amongst collectors is naturally very high.

Longevity Of Burnished Silver Eagles

Many enthusiasts believe that coins minted from the burnishing process actually benefit from improved longevity over coins with other finishes.

Since the minting of burnished coins only began so recently in the history of numismatics, their quality over time is not yet something we are able to comment on with certainty. However, if the belief is true and the burnishing process does, in fact, preserve the coins’ design for longer, we will undoubtedly see an increase in demand for burnished coins in the future.

Where To Purchase Burnished Silver Eagles

If you have read the above information about Burnished Silver Eagles and have decided to make a purchase, you need to know where to buy one. As with all coin collecting, there are several places you can buy your Eagles, so it is best to weigh up the advantages of each and choose wisely depending on your personal reasons for purchasing.

The first place people may turn to purchase Burnished Silver Eagles is the US Mint itself. Purchasing coins directly from their source guarantees authenticity, perhaps an advantage for those new to the business of numismatics. Often, coins bought directly from the Mint may come packaged with a history and insight into the coin, which may be an appealing extra touch for collectors.

For those looking to purchase Burnished Silver Eagles for investment purposes, there may be greater appeal in hunting around and researching different vendors to find the best prices.

Online Marketplaces

We would recommend starting using an online marketplace such as eBay, which will provide a quick-view into what the current selling prices are at any given time. Many certified vendors have online stores through marketplace websites, and from these you can be directed to their official websites for a further look at their stock and prices.

Remember, the intrinsic value of Burnished Silver Eagles is dependent on the current spot price of silver, which is ever-fluctuating. Therefore, the best time to buy your coins is when the price of silver is at a low point, but bear in mind that it changes constantly!

Due to the nature of the coins, please ensure that you do not make a purchase from an individual or trader you do not trust. It is very difficult to prove the authenticity of these coins without proper inspection, so make sure you are confident with your purchase before going ahead with it.

Final Thoughts

Burnished Silver Eagles are versions of silver bullion American Silver Eagle coins that are uncirculated and limited edition. They are minted using a specially polished coin blank, hence the name ‘Burnished,’ and this gives the coin a soft, matte finish.

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