What is my $50 American gold coin with MCMLXXXVII on it?

Caitlin E. writes: I have a 50 dollar American 10oz gold coin that is 1 1/4 inches in diameter. the year is MCMLXXXVII. It has ridges on the edge. One side depicts a woman with flowing hair holding an olive branch and a torch and says United States of America across the top. The other side depicts an eagle with an olive branch about to land in a nest with another eagle and a baby eagle with MB and JW below the nest very small. What kind of coin is this and what is it worth? Thank you very much, Caitlin

Not 10 ounces but a one ounce American Eagle $50 gold coin dated 1987 (Roman numerals MCMLXXXVII). This is a bullion coin, that is, a way of holding gold. The U.S. American Eagle gold bullion coin program began in 1986 and continues today. Roman numeral dates were used from 1986 thru 1991. Beginning with the 1992 issue, the dates were in Arabic numbers. Versions in tenth-ounce ($5), quarter-ounce ($10) and half-ounce ($25) were also made.

The coin’s obverse design was modeled after the classic “Standing Liberty” used on the U.S. Saint Gaudens $20 gold coin issued from 1907 thru 1933. The reverse design, the “Family of Eagles” motif, symbolizing family tradition and unity, was created by Mrs. Miley Frances Busiek. Her initials, MB, are below the eagle’s nest on the left, with the original engraver’s initials (JW) to the right.

The coins are made as regular business strikes or as proofs (“W”, West Point NY) mint mark). The regular issues contain exactly one troy ounce of pure gold though the total alloy is 91.67% gold, 3% silver and 5.33% copper. The coin weighs more than a troy ounce to accommodate the added alloy.

The coins usually trade at about 5-7% over the gold content. Proof examples bring an additional premium. Certified examples also bring premiums. Many thousands of these coins have been graded and encapsulated by third-party grading services. Most receive the grades MS or PR 69. Some even receive the supposedly “perfect” grade of MS or PR 70. While the quality differential between 69 and 70 is barely, if at all discernible, that doesn’t stop promoters from asking, and many enthusiastic buyers from paying, seemingly exorbitant prices for that “70” number on the holder. Whether these large premiums are justified remains to be seen.