U.S. Circulating Coin Production in 1887 – Putting the 1887 Half in Context
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, with the exception of the half eagle, which was only struck for circulation at the San Francisco branch. San Francisco also struck gold $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 in the MS64 value.
Building a complete 1886 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 half dollar fits into the puzzle is interesting and situational.
In terms of the 1887 date and mint set, it is the most valuable coin of all of the minor and silver denominations, but it does not compete with any of the gold issues outside of the diminutive gold dollar. In terms of Type 5 “With Motto” Liberty Seated half dollars, despite its low mintage, it is but one of many scarce issues in a series that is vastly underrated in its degree of collecting difficulty.
Truth is, from 1879 to 1890, there just 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 Seated Liberty 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 of the type with similar characteristics.
The 1887 Liberty Seated Half Dollar in Today’s Market
The specimen imaged in this coin profile was listed for sale at auction by Stack’s Bowers a few years ago. The coin is graded MS65 by NGC and is likely one of the first to ever be certified by the company as it is housed in a Generation 2 holder. It was likely certified 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.
It 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.
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 non-descript 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. Dentils surround the entire design.
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, dentils surround the entire side. Overall, the design is an improvement on John Reich’s earlier half dollar reverse.
|Year Of Issue:||1887|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Mintage:||5,000 (Business); 710 (Proof)|
|OBV Designer||Christian Gobrecht|
|REV Designer||Christian Gobrecht|
|Quality:||Proof, Business Strike|