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HomeUS Coins1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar : A Collector's Guide

1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar : A Collector’s Guide

1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..

U.S. Circulating Coin Production in 1887 – Putting the 1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar in Context

United States 1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar

In 1887, the Philadelphia Mint handled U.S. coin production for all of the minor denominations, the silver dollar, and gold denominations up to $10, except the Half Eagle, which was only struck for circulation at the San Francisco branch. San Francisco also struck gold in the $10s and $20s in quantity.

The chart to the right illustrates current market levels relative to mintages in the grade of MS65. There are no “Gem” 65 coins known at present for the $10 and $20 denominations, so we substituted the MS64 value.

Building a complete 1887 year set of circulation strikes in Gem or finest known 64s will set a collector back about $100,000 USD. However, this pursuit is well within the means of most interested adult collectors in the grade of MS62 or MS63. We estimate a choice set to cost about 1/4 to 1/3 of that price.

Where the 1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar fits into the puzzle is interesting and situational.

The 1887 date and mint set are the most valuable coins of all the minor and silver denominations, but they do not compete with any of the gold issues outside of the diminutive gold dollar. In terms of With Motto Liberty Seated Half Dollars, despite their low mintage, the 1887 issue is one of many scarce issues in a series vastly underrated in its degree of collecting difficulty.

From 1879 to 1890, there wasn’t much demand for the half-dollar denomination, and each year’s mintage (struck to said demand) reflected this. Were it not for the fact that the Liberty Seated type spanned more than 50 years of production, and its design not carried over for all of America’s silver denominations for much of that period, the pricing levels we see today would likely be significantly higher, based on these mintages and survival rates alone.

But the coin is what it is. Scarce and historic, yes, but one of several within the type that share similar characteristics.

How Much Is the 1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar Worth?

The specimen imaged in this coin profile was listed for auction by Stack’s Bowers a few years ago. The coin is graded MS65 by NGC and is likely one of the first examples to be certified by the company, as it is housed in a Generation 2 holder. It was likely graded in 1987 or 1988, which means that the coin was certified as a Gem under the standards set by John Albanese, and the gold CAC sticker on the holder affirms that Albanese believes today that NGC might have even been a little too hard on the coin back then.

This example sold for $7,200 (including buyer’s premium) as lot 528 in the official auction of the October 2018 Whitman Baltimore Winter Coin and Collectible Expo.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Two obverse dies are noted for this date. WB-101 is common.

Top Population: PCGS MS67+ (1, 4/2024), NGC MS67+ (2, 4/2024), and CAC MS67 (5:0 stickered:graded, 4/2024).

  • PCGS MS67 #24809421: “The Boylston Collection, Part IV,” Legend Rare Coin Auctions, February 23, 2023, Lot 221 – $27,025. Semi-reflective surfaces with amber toning along the periphery and an overall silvery hue.
  • PCGS MS67 CAC #40710248: As PCGS MS67 #13542792. Heritage Auctions, October 23, 2008, Lot 920 – $20,125; “The Bay State Collection, Part Two,” Heritage Auctions, July 31, 2009, Lot 1124 – $13,800; Heritage Auctions, July 6, 2017, Lot 3107 – $11,750; “The Dazzling Rarities Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, August 6, 2020, Lot 1206 – $12,600. As PCGS MS67 CAC #40710248. Legend Rare Coin Auctions, October 28, 2021, Lot 116 – $18,800. WB-101. Mostly brilliant with light toning above Liberty’s head. Toning spot to the right of Liberty’s left wrist. This coin is illustrated as this article’s feature image.
  • PCGS MS67 CAC #30043733: “Larry Whitlow, January 2004; “The Eugene H. Garnder Collection, Part IV, Heritage Auctions, October 2015, Lot 98709 – $19,975; Heritage Auctions, April 25, 2019, Lot 3752 – $20,400. Overall, the obverse has green and red toning, and target rainbow toning is on the reverse. Dark spot on the chief portion of the shield.
  • NGC MS67 #3603614-006: Heritage Auctions, June 5, 2014, Lot 4536 – $7,637.50; Stack’s Bowers, November 2014, Lot 4274 – $7,637.50. WB-101. Dark amber toning with blue along the periphery. 
  • PCGS MS67 CAC #4061011: Legend Numismatics to Eugene Gardner; “The Eugene H. Gardner Collection,” Heritage Auctions, June 23, 2014, Lot 30524 – $24,675. Muted but dark rainbow target toning on the obverse. Diagonal toning streaks across the obverse. Scattered toning in green, orange, and purple on the reverse.
1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar graded NGC MS67 (#3673209-003). Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar graded NGC MS67 (#3673209-003). Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.
  • NGC MS67 #3673209-003: As PCGS MS65. Stack’s Bowers, March 13, 2013, Lot 1451 – $8,225. As NGC MS67 #3673209-003. Heritage Auctions, February 27, 2014, Lot 3911 – $9,987.50. Crossed to NGC, where the coin upgraded by two points. Dark rainbow target toning on both sides. Light spot to the base of star 13.
  • NGC MS67 #303625-001: Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2006, Lot 2752 – $10,350; “The Joseph C. Thomas Collection, Part One,” Heritage Auctions, April 29, 2009, Lot 767 – $8,625. Obverse and reverse target toning. Dark spot at the base at 7 o’clock. Light spot on E of WE.
  • NGC MS67PL #549962-010: Heritage Auctions, February 24, 2005, Lot 7095 – $6,670.
  • PCGS MS66+ CAC #81630216: As PCGS MS66 #50033596. Heritage Auctions, July 7, 2016, Lot 3876 – $3,995. Blue and green tonings along the periphery. Red centers. As PCGS MS66+ CAC #81630216. Legend Rare Coin Auctions, July 16, 2020, Lot 309 – $6,462.50. Upgraded one-half point; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, December 3, 2020, Lot 140 – $5,757.50. Amber centers with blue toning along the periphery. Light streak to the left of stars 10 and 11. Four black horizontal streaks in the left field near stars 3 and 4.
  • PCGS MS66 #36621366: “The Boylston Collection, Part IV,” Legend Rare Coin Auctions, February 23, 2023, Lot 220 – $4,700. Light golden hue. Three ticks to the right of star 13. horizontal hit on Liberty’s left knee.
  • PCGS MS66 #25209505: As NGC MS66 #1631890-001. Heritage Auctions, October 22, 2009, Lot 707 – $4,456.25; Heritage Auctions, January 8, 2015, Lot 4971 – $4,230. As PCGS MS66 #25209505. Heritage Auctions, June 4, 2015, Lot 3988 – $4,935; Heritage Auctions, May 4, 2022, Lot 3526 – $4,560. Dark red and blue toning along the peripheries. Spot on left knee and another spot in right field above left knee.
  • NGC MS66PL #3236781-010: Heritage Auctions, August 1, 2009, Lot 1638 – $4,600; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 27, 2021, Lot 106 – $6,168.75. Brilliant. Thin vertical scratch in the left field. Hit to the right of star 12.
  • NGC MS66 #1634077-007: “The Larry H. Miller Collection, Part Two,” Stack’s Bowers, December 17, 2020, Lot 1086 – $5,040.
  • PCGS MS66 CAC #25798403: Heritage Auctions, June 5, 2020, Lot 3505 – $3,600; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, August 27, 2020, Lot 143 – $3,642.50. All over red-brown toning with dark aqua toning in scattered areas on the reverse.
  • PCGS MS66 CAC #3425639: Heritage Auctions, December 5, 2019, Lot 3114 – $6,300.
  • NGC MS66 #3815986-009: Heritage Auctions, February 4, 2016, Lot 3236 – $3,995. Rose and green toning with blue along the periphery.
  • PCGS MS66 #28721986: As NGC MS66 #3168637-002. Heritage Auctions, September 18, 2008, Lot 2243 – $5,750; “The Richard Jewell Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, August 14, 2013, Lot 4264 – $4,700. All over champagne toning with areas of blue or red hue. Stars 6-9 are flatly struck. As PCGS MS66 #28721986. Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2014, Lot 4436 – $4,996.75. Crossed to PCGS. The obverse has blue and mauve toning, and the reverse has target rainbow toning in matching colors. Light spot to the left of 1. Blue diagonal toning streak across shield and eagle’s left wing.
  • NGC MS66 #3126603-001: Heritage Auctions, May 4, 2008, Lot 61496 – $5,750. Brilliant.
  • NGC MS66 #154738-004: “The Parker Lee III Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2008, Lot 1575 – $5,175.
  • NGC MS66PL #1561375-003: Heritage Auctions, August 8, 2007, Lot 849 – $5,060. Brilliant.
  • PCGS MS66 #6593364: Heritage Auctions, November 5, 2004, Lot 7456 – $2,990. Bland olive drab toning with darker areas along stars and in the protected areas of the obverse and reverse.
  • PCGS MS66 #21406108: Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2004, Lot 6648 – $4,255. Brilliant.

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Design

Obverse:

The classic obverse design of Seated Liberty coinage was created by Christian Gobrecht, from 1840 to 1844 the third Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. It features Lady Liberty sitting on a nondescript prop, of which we can deduce little. Her head is turned to her right, which leaves her long hair cascading over her left shoulder. Like on many such representations, Liberty wears sandals and a long dress inspired by classical art. In her left hand she holds a pole, atop of which is a Liberty cap. Her right hand slightly cradles a heraldic shield with the word LIBERTY on a scroll across it. Beneath the ground upon which Liberty’s seat is positioned, the date 1887 is found in the exergue. Thirteen six-pointed stars arc along the top half of the coin. Denticles surround the entire design.

Reverse:

An eagle worthy of the name graces the reverse. Its head is also turned to its right; its wings are spread out but down. It holds three sharp arrows in its left talon and an olive branch in its right. An escutcheon based on the U.S. flag covers its breast. A scroll unravels above its head, upon which is written the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arcs clockwise around the top of the coin; the abbreviated denomination HALF DOL. runs counterclockwise along the bottom. As with the obverse, denticles surround the entire side. Overall, the design is an improvement on John Reich’s earlier half dollar reverse.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1887
Denomination: Half Dollar (50 Cents USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 5,000
Alloy: .900 Silver, .100 Copper
Weight: 12.5 g
Diameter: 30.6 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
Quality: Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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