In 1986, the United States Treasury began one of the most popular bullion coin programs in the world.
This became known as the American Eagle program, which fell under the Bullion Coin Act that was introduced in 1985. American Eagles would join other prominent world mints, such as those in Canada and South Africa, as fine bullion coins that could be instantly recognized by international investors.
So What Happened the Year After That?
The first American silver eagles that were available were released to the public on November 24, 1986, so there was not much time left in the year. 1987 became the second year of the American Eagle series when precious metal investors in the United States kept buying up these bullion coins.
The American silver eagle had already been extremely popular in the final months of 1986, and in 1987, production was stepped up significantly among the uncirculated pieces of metal, with 11,442,335 made at the Philadelphia mint and 904,732 at the San Francisco mint.
1987 American Silver Dollars
Although the American Eagle series started out essentially as coins for bullion investors, they soon became popular with numismatists, too. Many of these coin collectors went about collecting each edition of the coin on an annual basis, so by now, their collections are often thick with a wide array of silver dollars.
For most of the history of the American silver dollar (or silver eagle) program, both uncirculated and proof versions have been struck. 1987 American silver dollars all contain 1 ounce of .9999 fine silver. These coins are the only silver ones in the American Eagle series.
The other ones in the series are all gold coins with respective weights of 1/10 ounce, 1/4 ounce, 1/2 ounce, and 1 ounce. In the world of numismatics, it is helpful to understand the differences between an ounce, generally abbreviated as “oz”, and a troy ounce.
An ounce measures 28.35 grams or 1/16th of a pound. A troy ounce weighs 31.103 grams and is significantly heavier than an ounce. The weight difference of 2.753 grams may seem insignificant on the surface. But for a bullion dealer or investor who may pay $100 for a tiny bar of gold weighing a single gram, the difference between ounces and troy ounces does matter.
The Coin’s Design
The American silver eagle features Lady Liberty walking with an olive branch in her left arm and her right arm outstretched before a depiction of the rising sun. If this design seems a little familiar to you, it is because it was also featured on half dollar coins from 1916 until 1947.
The Walking Liberty half dollar has been considered one of the world’s most beautiful coins and certainly one of the most prized designs in the USA. This famous Walking Liberty design was developed by Adolph A. Weinman, and the obverse side of the coin shows another evocative design by John Mercanti of a modern, stylized heraldic eagle.
There is a banner that reads E Pluribus Unum, similar to the design of Draped Bust quarters, half dollars, and dollars, and also of Barber quarters and half dollars. The top of the coin displays the word “Liberty” while the bottom part features the phrase “In God We Trust.” The year of minting is also listed.
The U.S. Mint recently announced that it will replace the reverse design in 2021 with a more modern design with many new anti-counterfeiting elements. This will introduce a new subtype for the series, ending the Heraldic Eagle reverse design and giving that subtype a beginning date of 1986 and an ending date of 2020.
Types of American Silver Eagles
The first decade of production yielded some standard specimens, with conventional bullion quality coins and proof coins. By 1995, the West Point Mint decided to strike a limited number of proof coins that were meant to be included in the 10th-anniversary gold eagle set.
The 1995-W silver eagle was included as a free bonus coin with that anniversary set, and there were only 30,125 of them made. This meant that these coins quickly became very popular with coin collectors, and they are still regarded as the rare regular-issue key date for the whole series.
Since the turn of the century, the coins have been struck in other numismatic varieties, like burnished finish and reverse proof. Although the coins were first made at the Philadelphia Mint, some early proofs also came from San Francisco.
But the minting assignments have changed over the years, with Philadelphia striking proofs during the 1990s and the West Point Mint taking over production by 2000.
Using the Coins for Bullion Purposes
Like all American Eagle bullion coinage, silver bullion coins feature very high-quality surfaces. However, the coins have been struck in very large numbers and they are distributed through a network of authorized dealers by the United States Mint.
This means there is less regard for finish preservation than you might expect. These types of coins can usually be obtained for small premiums over their spot price. However, older coins can be worth much more, because they are scarcer than the more recent ones.
Some of the most valuable versions are the 1986, 1994, and 1995 coins. The 1996 coin remains the key date for all regular-issue bullion strikes.
Proof American Silver Eagles
Proof Silver Eagles are the collector’s versions of the official United States bullion coins. They are only available in the one-ounce size. In 1986, the first proof American Silver Eagles were released and they have been struck in all years except 2009 when a planchet shortage lowered the production of all non-bullion silver eagle coinage.
Regular proofs are quite common, but some of the earlier pieces can be rare when they are graded at PR69 or above. American Eagle Silver Proof Coins are minted at the U.S. Mint at West Point and show the “W” mint mark. In 2021, the U.S. Mint celebrated the 35th anniversary of the American Eagle Coin Program with a new design with some of Weinman’s original details that were not visible before.
For example, the reverse now shows an eagle coming in to land, while carrying an oak branch for a nest. Many United States government-proof coin sets include a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) in the box with the coins. The United States mint began including the COA card in proof sets starting with the 1990 sets.
Some years of older mint sets would have a paper insert or card in them advertising the mint or describing the set. However, these paper inserts did not have the words “certificate of authenticity” on them.
1987 Silver Eagle Value
All 1987 American Silver Eagle (ASE) coins contain one ounce of pure silver. Because of that silver content, each regular issue 1987 USD $1 silver coin usually sells for about $2 above or below the current price of an ounce of silver, which can instantly be found online. This depends on whether you are buying or selling the coin.
As an example, if the silver spot price is $20, many coin collectors or online companies might pay you between $18 and $22 for the coin, depending on their buying and selling policies. This could be a significant difference if you are dealing with a large number of coins.
Like with other items of value, try to shop around a little to see if you can get the best price. It is also a good idea to visit coin shows and auctions. Also, be sure to check and see if you have a proof 1987 American Silver Eagle. As described above, a proof coin has a “S” mint mark or a “W” mint mark under the left side of the eagle.
The letter S shows that the proof coin was minted in San Francisco. Many coin collectors refer to these 1987-S ASEs. Proof coins have traditionally been considered quite a lot more valuable than regular strikes. A coin with a face value of one dollar might actually be worth far more than that.
Collecting American Silver Eagles
It has become really clear that the American Silver Eagle program is among the most popular of all bullion coin programs in the world. American Silver Eagle dollars, as well as American Gold Eagles (and even the platinum and palladium releases), are widely traded both in the United States as well as abroad.
They are trusted by coin collectors and investors all over the world. ASEs are some of the most popular US coins but they are far from being the oldest of the modern world coins. The gold South African Kruger Rand gold coins were released way back in 1967, the Canadian Maple Leaf debuted in 1979, Mexican Libertads were launched in 1981, and the Chinese Panda program started in 1982.
All of these are some of the most frequently found coins in the world of precious metals and numismatics.
A Comparison of Gold and Silver Eagles
While all kinds of numismatic strikes are usually intended to be for coin collectors, there are some investors who will buy these types of coins simply to add some kind of variety to their growing stash. The bullion-quality ASEs also tend to have this type of crossover appeal with many of the most serious coin collectors, who sometimes can display date sets from all the way back to 1986.
Because so many modern coin collectors are now interested in so many types of ASEs, the silver eagle registry set collecting objectives that have been set forth by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) can influence richer collectors to buy high-grade examples to build the highest-quality coin collection that they can.
The American Silver Eagle series has an expansive collector base, and many coins can be bought quite inexpensively. If you are a budding coin collector and if you are looking for a fun, challenging, approachable series to collect, consider participating in the PCGS Set Registry.
With regular reverse design changes and plenty of new product offerings, this is a hobby that will surely keep you busy.
Other Silver Dollars in Circulation
Uncirculated proof Eisenhower dollars are attractive items for many peoples’ wishlists, but they are not always very valuable. These are the Ike dollars with mirrored surfaces that you will find in the possession of many coin collectors.
Coins like these are usually only worth a small premium price, just a little higher than their face value. But many coin collectors have still built special types of commemorative sets of Eisenhower Dollars for a small amount of money.
Other dollar coins might include the Morgan Silver Dollar (1878-1921), which has been in circulation longer than any of the other silver dollar coins. Because the goal for many coin collectors is always to find a group of well-preserved coins, this can be difficult when it comes to Morgan Silver Dollars. Many of these coins are more than 100 years old, so they are not very common.
A Few Other Important Factors to Consider When it Comes to Coin Value
Actual silver coins can be identified by their lighter color. A simple way to test any of your coins would be to use the tissue test. Place a facial tissue on top of your dollar coin and try to determine whether the color that shines through is darker or lighter than the color from another coin.
Lighter coins contain more silver, and darker ones contain more copper and nickel. Some coins are not valued quite as much as collectible pieces, so their value will generally be a bit lower. And even though a coin’s mintage numbers can be important things to consider, those numbers will not always tell the full story either.
Lots of coins that were once minted no longer survive in circulation in the regular coinage of the United States of America, for many reasons. For example, coins that show any damage are sometimes only worth their face value to most of the reputable coin dealers, even if they are very old. Also, the coin’s overall condition can be quite important in terms of its value.
Well-preserved American Silver Eagle coins can be worth a lot more than similar coins with high levels of wear and tear or other types of damage. When selecting any American silver eagles, always be sure to look for well-preserved specimens.
Many coins have been stored individually in folders or albums and they may show signs of coloration or mishandling. You will certainly find that some mint years will always be more valuable than others, and the minting location may be paramount when you are building your own coin collection.