The 2008 Silver Eagle Transitional Variety
The 2008-W Silver Eagle has been found to have a fascinating variety type! The experts at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, (usually referred to as "NGC,") have reported that an unknown quantity of U.S. Silver Eagles have been struck using a reverse die meant for the 2007 Silver Eagle. The Silver Eagles in question have all been minted at the West Point Mint, and bear the W Mint mark. These Silver Eagles are not the ones that are sold as bullion coins by dealers; the W mark is only applied to coins which are struck with a "satin finish" and sold as "Uncirculated" via the U.S. Mint's Web site (although dealers do sell them, too, on the secondary market.)
The diagnostics to determine whether or not your Silver Eagle has the 2007 reverse type are pretty simple to detect. The easiest difference to find is in the shape of the U in UNITED. On the 2007 dies, this letter has a straight-line U without a "spur." On the 2008 reverse dies, the letter U does have a "spur", which looks like the little added stroke usually seen on the lower-case U, which appears on the bottom right side of the letter.
Photo courtesy of NGC.
Further diagnostic images and additional information can be found on NGC's page about the 2008 Silver Eagle with 2007 reverse variety type. Die variety experts call this type of die mismatch a transitional error. The term refers to the fact that the Mint used the wrong die type for one side of the coin during a period of transition from one hub to another. Numerous transitional error types are known, especially in the Lincoln Memorial Cent series, although others will likely turn up as collectors become more aware of this interesting type of variety. For now, we don't know how many 2008 Silver Eagles are affected. When more information becomes available, I will post it here.
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