The America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins are an innovative series of silver bullion and collector coins launched by the United States Mint in 2010. Each coin is struck in 5 troy ounces of .999 fine silver with a diameter of 3.0 inches and incused edge lettering. The designs for the coins are taken from the circulating quarter dollars issued as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters Program.
Authorization for the series comes from Public Law 110-456 America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008. In addition to authorizing a new series of circulating commemorative quarter dollars, the law authorizes a new silver bullion investment product. This represents only the second silver bullion coin series produced by the United States Mint after the highly popular American Silver Eagle series launched in 1986.
The United states Mint has issued the America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins sequentially in the same order as the circulating quarter dollar series. This has created a release schedule which runs from 2010 to 2021 with five different designs released per year, with the exception of the final year of the series which will see only one design released. In total, the complete series will include 56 different issues, featuring a separate national park or site from each state, territory, and the District of Columbia.
Initial Production Challenges
The United States Mint faced production challenges for the America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins due to the unique characteristics specified under the authorizing legislation. New equipment was ordered and installed, followed by an extended period of testing before full scale production commenced.
A new coining press was purchased from Gräbener Pressensysteme GmbH & Co. at cost of $2.2 million and installed at the Philadelphia Mint on March 1, 2010. Both the bullion and numismatic versions of the coin would be struck at this location with the new coining press.
During the initial testing period, the United States Mint found that the wide 3 inch diameter of the coins resulted in extremely thin planchets which were actually bendable by hand. Furthermore, the Mint found that it was a challenge to apply the required incused edge lettering without crumbling the edges of the coins. These issues prompted the Mint to request changes to the legislative requirements of the coins. Several months later, legislation was introduced which would have eliminated the requirement for incused edge lettering and modified the diameter requirement to “no less than 2.5 inches and no greater than 3.0 inches”.
The requested legislative amendments were eventually passed as part of Public Law 111-302, the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, however the changes proved unnecessary as full scale production had already begun under the original specifications.
For the first year of release, the United States Mint had initially planned to strike 100,000 pieces for each of the five designs. However, the production delays caused the mintage levels to be cut to 33,000 bullion and 27,000 numismatic coins for each design. When it was found that initial demand would far exceed this amount, the Mint imposed special terms and conditions on the authorized purchasers to ensure that the bullion coins were fairly and evenly distributed. The numismatic coins would be released the following year with strict ordering limits imposed.
Coin Specifications and Design
All coins minted for the program have a diameter of 3.0 inches and thickness of 0.16 inch. Each coin has a weight of 5.0 troy ounces and composition of .999 fine silver. This represents the first and only time that silver coins have been struck by the United States Mint in a size greater than one ounce. The silver planchets for the series are supplied by Sunshine Minting, Inc. of coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
The coins include incused edge lettering indicating the fineness and weight of the coins. This information is expressed with the lettering “.999 Fine Silver 5.0 Ounce”.
Designs for the America the Beautiful Silver Bullion Coins are likenesses of the designs found on the circulating quarter dollar series. In implementation, the design details for the bullion coins are actually much sharper than the corresponding quarters. This is due to the fact that the Mint does not hub the dies for the bullion coins, but rather mechanically cuts directly into the die steel from the original models. Another slight difference is that the relief for the bullion coins is proportionally lower in comparison to the quarters due to the ratio of the thickness to the diameter.
Despite the five ounces of silver content, the bullion coins have the curious denomination of “quarter dollar” since the entire design including inscriptions are duplicated from the circulating coin series.
Bullion and Numismatic Versions
Public Law 110-456 provided specific authorization for the bullion versions of the series, which were to be produced in quantities determined by the Secretary of the Treasury and distributed by the United States Mint’s network of authorized purchasers. The Mint would receive separate authorization from the Secretary of the Treasury to produce numismatic versions of the coins. The Secretary used the broad authority granted under 31 U.S.C. §5111(a)(3) to design, produce, and sell numismatic items.
The bullion versions of the coin are struck with a brilliant finish. In certain cases the luster of these bullion coins is proof like or deep mirror proof like in appearance and may be designated as such by third party grading services. These coins are struck at the Philadelphia Mint, but do not contain a mint mark. The bullion coins come packaged “monster boxes” of ten tubes containing ten coins each, for a total of 500 ounces. The tubes and box are colored dark blue to differentiate from other bullion series.
The numismatic versions of the coin are struck with an uncirculated finish, which carries a lightly frosted, satin-like appearance. To achieve this finish, the United States Mint utilizes a vapor blasting technique, which they had previously utilized for bronze medals. Early within the series, some variation in the level of frosting was noted leading to designation by third party grading services of “light satin”. The numismatic coins are struck at the Philadelphia Mint and carry the “P” mint mark. These collector coins are packaged in plastic capsules, which are placed within an outer display box along with a certificate of authenticity.