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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. 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…”
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.
As a collectible coin, the 1987 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.
See our comments in the COINWEEK IQ ANALYSIS tab for more information about the PCGS “70” population.
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
CoinWeek IQ Analysis
When we last dug deeply into the grading idiosyncrasies of the American Silver Eagle series, the PCGS population of 1987 American Silver Eagles in Mint State 70 stood at 20 pieces.
This was such a low number that we were able to identify 14 of the 20. 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)
In the years that followed, the population of PCGS MS-70s increased from 20 to 279. Thirty-two came from coins attributed as First Strikes and 80 are in various signature label holders. Due to this, we have seen a significant decline in value for the issue in MS-70. The example that sold for a record $9,075 in a March 2013 GreatCollections sale would trade for about $1,000 today.
During 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.
A Future Issue to be Aware of
If you’ve made it through this much analysis, you are likely somewhat savvy to the way the market works. Our friends at Coin World jumped the gun last week in announcing that Certified Acceptance Corporation (CAC) would enter the market as a full-service grading company in early 2023.
CAC has carved out quite a devoted following in the rare coin market with their stickering service, but outside of a handful of 20th-century issues, has all but ignored modern and bullion coinage.
In talking with CAC President John Albanese, we know that at some point after the company transitions to grading and encapsulation, it will begin to accept modern coins and coins in the American Eagle program. This means that we will have to track the pricing performance of CAC-graded silver eagles at some point in 2023.
We predict that, despite CAC’s best efforts to inform its customers that modern bullion coins are not investment coins, those who specialize in this material will jump at the possibility to get their products in CAC holders and capitalize on the interest in the new service. We predict that these coins will sell for significant premiums due to their low initial populations and due to the perception on the part of some that CAC has “tougher” standards than PCGS or NGC.
Our advice? If you want CAC to grade your Silver Eagle, fine. But paying a premium over the 10x we recommend for 70s will be a long-term loser for you.
Total Certified Population: 195,169
Original Mintage: 11,442,335
Total Certified from Original Mintage: 1.71%
Certified Population by Grading Service
12.9% (7.51% in 2014)
87.1 % (91.03% in 2014)
Ratio of Grade Distribution
69/70 Ratio: 86.77 to 1
(2014: 412 To 1)
69/70 Ratio: 82.72 to 1
(2014: 208 To 1)
Price Premium for 70 Graded Coins
21.15 x 69 Price
(2014: 52.63 X 69 Price)
16.25 x 69 Price
(2014: 32.85 X 69 Price)
TERMINAL POINT: MS-69 *
* The grade at which the retail cost of the coin (raw) PLUS the standard submission fees PLUS S&H exceed the retail value of the certified coin in the secondary market
An insert label plays a vital role in the buying and selling of certified coins. It is a document that identifies a coin’s year of issue, its type, the mintmark (if applicable), its variety designation (if applicable), and its denomination. The label also contains the coin’s assigned grade and certification number. Both services also affix each label with a barcode for added security.
Insert labels also serve as marketing tools. Whether limited in nature or widely produced, novelty label insert designs have been developed by the grading services to allow coin marketers to individuate their offerings from previously-certified coins that are already offered in the marketplace.
CoinWeek is attempting to put together a complete PCGS and NGC label insert glossary to serve as a reference tool for collectors.
Basic Label Designs
Novelty Label Designs
Signature Label Designs
Sequentially Numbered Label Designs
Basic Label Designs
Novelty Label Designs
Signature Label Designs
Help us complete this visual glossary. Email us missing insert label images at [email protected].
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 http://www.gao.gov/products/LCD-79-410. Accessed 1/31/15.
 “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.