HomeUS Coins1987 American Silver Eagle Bullion Coin : A Collector's Guide

1987 American Silver Eagle Bullion Coin : A Collector’s Guide

1987 American Silver Eagle Bullion Coin. Image: CoinWeek.
1987 American Silver Eagle Bullion Coin. Image: CoinWeek.

Strong Sales for the 1987 American Silver Eagle

Authorized on July 9, 1985 by the Liberty Coin Act (Public Law 99-61), American Silver Eagles were first minted and sold in 1986. Each weighs 1.000 troy ounces and is struck from .999 fine silver — the highest purity for any silver coin manufactured by the United States Mint.

The American Silver Eagle, perhaps the most popular collectible coin program in modern history, was born out of Congress’ desire to dispose of the federal government’s massive silver stockpile, which at the time exceeded 139 million ounces[1]. The Liberty Coin Act called for the Mint to strike .999 fine silver coins measuring 40.6 millimeters in diameter and weighing 31.103 grams. The coin was to feature a design “symbolic of Liberty on the obverse side; and… of an eagle on the reverse side…”[2]

Sales for bullion-strike American Silver Eagles nearly doubled in the second year of the program. This was due in large part to the coin being available to buyers from January 1 through to the end of the year.

The 11,442,335 bullion coins sold in 1987 proved to be the high watermark for the American Silver Eagle series for more than 20 years and, in fact, the United States Mint would not exceed 10 million bullion coins sold in one year again until 2002.

The 1987 American Silver Eagle as a Collectible Coin

As a collectible coin, the 1987 American Silver Eagle bullion strike is treated as a generic issue in grades MS-69 and below. In MS-70, the coin exerts a significant market premium (14.42 x 69 price for NGC; even higher for PCGS).

We expect the premium spread between “perfect” coins from the two services to narrow in the future, as PCGS seems to be slightly more willing to offer up a “70” grade to premium coins. When Whitman published the first edition of Silver Eagle reverse designer John Mercanti’s American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program in 2012, the PCGS MS-70 population sat at 10 pieces; that number has since doubled.

In any event, “Top Pop” Collectors should be mindful of certified population totals and remember Newton’s “Third Law of Modern Numismatics”: When the pop goes up, the price must come down.

While the 1986 American Silver Eagle bullion strike was produced for only two months (November and December), the 1987 issue saw regular coinage throughout the year, with the presses dormant only in June. Demand was strong through May, weak through the summer months, and strong again in October, November, and December.

1987 American Silver Eagle Sales by Month

Jan: 715,000 Feb: 775,000 Mar: 1,355,000 Apr: 1,060,000
May: 1,280,000 Jun: 0 Jul: 100,000 Aug: 300,000
Sep: 300,000 Oct: 800,000 Nov: 1,250,000 Dec: 660,000

CoinWeek IQ Analysis

When we first dug deeply into the grading idiosyncrasies of the American Silver Eagle series, in 2013, the PCGS population of 1987 American Silver Eagles in Mint State 70 stood at 20 pieces. Today, the total number of coins in PCGS census at 70 has reached nearly 400.

In 2013, we were able to identify 14 of the 20 coins graded 70. With such a low population, 1987 American Silver Eagles were selling at a major auctions for thousands of dollars, sometimes as high as $10,000 or more. Amazingly, those 14 appeared to come out of two separate submissions.

The first submission boasted 10 coins with sequential certification numbers (certs #20675940 through #20675949). We determined that these were the 10 coins accounted for in the first edition of Whitman’s American Silver Eagles (2012).

Preceding this string of cert numbers were 99 Silver Eagles from 1987 graded MS-69 (certs #20675840 through #2067939). Following the string were 19 certification numbers used for 1987 Silver Eagle 20-coin Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) rolls. In total, the size of this submission appears to be 489 coins. A “monster box” contains 500 pieces so we assumed this was a bulk order of one unopened 1987 United States Mint monster box.

The second string was graded later. We know thew this because those coins are in the current generation “fader” PCGS label and first appeared at auction in 2014 – after the publication of the book.

Unlike the first batch, this string isn’t sequential but does follow a pattern. PCGS certs #29943325 through #29943352 are 1987 Silver Eagles graded MS-69. Cert numbers #29943353, #29943355, #29943357, and #29943360 are 1987s in MS-70. In between, certs #29943354, #29943356, #299433558, and #29943359 graded MS-69.

At the time, with so few PCGS coins graded MS-70, it was too difficult to get an accurate gauge of the coin’s true value in the marketplace. But it was not that difficult to predict what the coins might do in the future, say when additional coins earned the MS-70 grade.

With 10 to 20 coins certified PCGS MS-70, the coins were typically consigned to auctions. The auctioneers of choice were GreatCollections (eight sales) and Heritage (three sales). A few examples ended up on eBay, with one particular example (PCGS Cert #20675941) shedding $5,000 in the process.

PCGS MS-70s traded at auction between 2013-2015:

  • Cert #20675948 $4,025.00 (Heritage Auctions, 6/1/2012); $6,655.00 (Great Collections, 11/17/2013)
  • Cert #20675947 $3,850.00 (Great Collections, 8/12/2012)
  • Cert #20675949 $4,112.50 (Heritage Auctions, 9/7/2012); $9,075.00 (Great Collections, 3/31/2013); $4,400.00 (Great Collections, 6/9/2014)
  • Cert #20675943 $7,050.00 (Heritage Auctions, 4/26/2013)
  • Cert #20675941 $6,328.30 (Great Collections, 5/5/2013);$2,590.50 (Great Collections, 2/1/2015); $1,275.00 (eBay, 10/12/15)
  • Cert #29943360 $5,206.31 (Great Collections, 7/13/2014)
  • Cert #29943357 $3,630.00 (Great Collections, 10/26/2014)
  • Cert #20675946 $3,000.00 (eBay, 2/2/2015)

With the PCGS population of 1987 American Silver Eagles in MS70 approaching 400, the days of collectors paying thousands of dollars for a “perfect” example are well behind us. The example that sold for a record $9,075 in a March 2013 GreatCollections sale would trade for about $700 today. Even this price seems high.

Over the course of the same period, NGC pops have nearly tripled.

In 2013, their pop for Mint State 70 coins stood at 524 with a handful of new coins being added each month. The current population at the time of this writing (10/20/2022) stands at 1,972 pieces. The market value for an NGC MS-70 is also down over the past decade, and significantly so. Collectors would have seen negative returns from coins graded 70 by both services, but PCGS coins lost thousands of dollars of “market value” while NGC coins shed only a few hundred over the same period.

And keep in mind, these are not investment grade coins. PCGS and NGC prices for MS69 Silver Eagles are roughly equivalent to what they cost in 2013. That was with 2013 dollars, mind you. Adjusting for inflation, and the acquisition cost is cheaper today than it was eight years ago.

As for MS70s, looking forward, we target a 10x premium as a safe zone for this issue. Whatever the going rate is for a 69 coin, paying 10x that for a choice 70 seems like the right price. This a common issue in the series and we will continue to see many more coins encapsulated in the years to come.

CAC Grading is a newcomer to grading American Silver Eagles. Before launching as a full-service U.S. coin grading company, CAC accepted submissions of classic U.S. coins and a few specific coins minted in the second-half of the 20th century. As of this publication, CAC reports 197 coins at MS69 and just 9 at MS70. It is our understanding, that many of these coins were crossed over from coins graded by the other services.

Design

Obverse:

Adolph A. Weinman’s Lady Liberty is depicted mid stride. She is seen as a full-body figure, dressed in a flowing gown, and draped with a large billowing American flag. She holds laurel and oak branches in her left hand that symbolize the civil and military glories of America, respectively. As Liberty strides confidently towards the rising sun, she also reaches out and presents a welcoming and open hand. So large is Lady Liberty that she is superimposed over the obverse legend “LIBERTY” ringing the obverse – in fact, she obscures half of the “BE” and almost the entire “R”. Above Liberty’s outstretched rear foot is IN GOD WE TRUST and below her is the date (1986).

The design bears a notable resemblance to sculptor Oscar Roty’s The Sower, a common image on French coins. Numismatist Roger Burdette posited in his book Renaissance of American Coinage (2007) that this was not a coincidence and while Adolph Weinman did not directly copy, he did derive significant inspiration from Roty’s work. Weinman’s Liberty Walking design quickly became one of America’s most iconic numismatic images and would be used with minor modifications on the American Silver Eagle bullion coin starting in 1986.

Reverse:

John Mercanti’s Heraldic Eagle is positioned at the center of the reverse. Clutched in its beak is a ribbon that bears the motto: E PLURIBUS UNUM. Above its head, is a constellation of thirteen stars configured in an upside-down pyramid formation. Wrapping around the design is the legend (top): UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; and the fineness and denomination (bottom): 1 OZ. FINE SILVER. ONE DOLLAR.

Edge:

The edge of the 1986 American Silver Eagle bullion coin is reeded.

Coin Specifications

American Silver Eagle Bullion Coin
Year Of Issue: 1987
Mintage: 11,442,335
Alloy: 99.9% silver
Weight: 31.10 grams
Diameter: 40.60 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer Adolph A. Weinman
REV Designer John M. Mercanti

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Notes

[1] http://www.gao.gov/products/LCD-79-410. Accessed 1/31/15.

[2] “Liberty Coin Act” (PL 99-61, July 9, 1985). 99th Congress. 99 STAT. 113.

Mercanti, John. American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program. Whitman Publishing, LLC. Atlanta, Georgia. 2012. 24, 29-31.

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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.

4 COMMENTS

  1. In the yr since getting into the hobby, I’ve learned a few important facts.
    Numismatic professional types, individuals, grading companies, mints & the community as a whole have little to no foresight. They can’t seem to grasp that population can become thoroughly unimportant. Especially as time goes on, coins tend to be abused and undervalued, eventually leading to common coins being highly valued.
    For a hobby/field with so much intelligence involved- idk how the entire community can be so inept. Blind, even dumb.
    The A.E. is the most overpriced pile of crap I’ve seen our mint produce, and yet people flock to it simply based on patriotism. Well, I’m not feeling so patriotic about a govt that charges its own citizens $80 for a 1oz silver coin that has zero visual appeal. And decided to remint coins from 100yrs or more ago, that hold ZERO HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE, & charge $80 for those out the mint as well. They’re not even an oz of silver- but you guys keep buying that trash, as if you will ever get a fraction of those premiums back.
    CAN Maples are far superior in every way, from silver content- to security measures & even basic looks.
    Why don’t our eagles have a security privy? Where are radial lines, or any measures to confirm authenticity? There are none bc those coins are garbage and the mint knows it.
    $80 out the mint screams desperation too- take the hint & run.

  2. How much are 1923 solver dollars worth, and a 1941 dime ? Also I havev5 bicentennial quarters , + 2- 2 dillar bills , 1 dtill.in the sheat, it came in. Just asking, thanks.

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