The 1995-W Proof American Silver Eagle remains the undisputed key date of the popular series and has come to represent one of the most coveted modern rarities. The issue was created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the American Eagle program and only included within a special set containing four higher value gold coins. The unusual circumstances of the distribution led to very low sales and the extremely limited mintage of just 30,125 pieces.
The American Silver Eagle was originally authorized under the Liberty Coin Act, which became Public Law No. 99-61 with President Ronald Reagan’s signature on July 9, 1985. The law provided for coins to be minted and issued with a diameter of 40.6 mm, weight of 31.103 grams (one troy ounce), and composition of 99.9% fine silver. The initial source for the silver would be the Defense National Stockpile. The authorizing legislation specified that obverse design was to be symbolic of Liberty, while the reverse design was to carry an eagle.
When the series launched in late 1986, the obverse featured Adolph A. Weinman’s Walking Liberty design, which had appeared on the circulating half dollar issued from 1916 to 1947. The reverse design would feature a heraldic eagle designed by John Mercanti, who would later be appointed Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. The coins were offered in bullion format and distributed through a network of authorized purchasers with the pricing determined based on the market price of silver plus a fixed mark up. Numismatic versions of the coins were also offered, which for the initial years of the series consisted of an annual proof coin struck at either the San Francisco or Philadelphia Mint.
Sales for the annual numismatic version reached more than 1.4 million for the first year of issue in 1986. This number declined sharply over the next two years, but settled around a steady average of five hundred thousand coins per year. In 1995, the United States Mint created a special 10th Anniversary Set to mark the important milestone in the series. The set included the four denominations for the American Gold Eagle as well as the American Silver Eagle, with all five coins struck at the West Point Mint and carrying the “W” mint mark. Since the individually offered proof Silver Eagle for the year carried the “P” mint mark, this set was the only source of the 1995-W Proof Silver Eagle.
Over time, the allure and demand for this modern rarity has grown. This single one ounce silver coin has come to be valued higher than the other four gold coins included in the 10th Anniversary Set.