By Mark Ferguson – www.MFrarecoins.com ......
Morgan silver dollars, minted between 1878 and 1921, have been promoted and enthusiastically collected for decades; and “early” silver dollars, struck between 1794 and 1804, have had a long, strong following of collectors. But Seated Liberty silver dollars, coined from 1840 through 1873, have fallen through the cracks in popularity during recent years.
However, there’s a growing following for this series by collectors who want a new challenge. Expect to see an increasing number of articles written about Seated Liberty silver dollars and perhaps even a new book or two during the next few years. Undoubtedly the reason so little attention has been given to this series is that these are very scarce coins, especially in untampered with, “original” Mint State condition.
Many Seated Liberty silver dollars that still survive have been cleaned and have often been artificially retoned. Examples with original surfaces are truly very scarce. Probably most pieces that appear to be Mint “white” have been lightly cleaned, but can still be attractive if they don’t have a polished look. For these reasons, many collectors prefer examples that have been lightly circulated, such as those in Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated grades.
A large number of these coins have been melted over the years because there were times when their silver content was worth more than one dollar on world markets, making it profitable to turn them into silver bars. Coupling this with their overall low mintages per issue has resulted in coin issues for this series that are truly scarce. A few are downright rare.
One great appeal the Seated Liberty dollar series has going for it is that it is a large-size coin. Collecting large coins, like silver dollars and twenty dollar gold coins, has normally been more appealing to the majority of collectors than collecting small-size coins, like three cent pieces and half dimes, for example.
Four different Mints are represented in this series – Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco and Carson City. The majority of Seated Liberty dollars were minted in Philadelphia, but four issues were struck in New Orleans, three in San Francisco and four in Carson City. In fact, one example struck at each Mint makes up a popular small set in which to collect this series.
Another popular way to collect Seated Liberty dollars is by “design type,” of which there are only two – those with the motto “In God We Trust” on the reverse and those without. These two design type coins are often included as part of “type sets” of other U.S. coin denominations. Another popular way to collect these dollars is with a short set of Civil War issues, minted from 1861 to 1865.
Forty seven issues of Seated Liberty silver dollars are recorded as having been struck at U.S. Mints. However, the existence of an 1873-S issue specimen is unknown; there only two 1866 No Motto specimens known, both proofs; and only about a dozen 1870-S examples are known to exist. These coins are not available and/or out of the price range of virtually all collectors, reducing the number of collectible issues to forty four.
Another issue – the 1858 – is a proof only issue and some collectors shy away from that date. About 300 are believed to have been struck and PCGS estimates there are about 250 survivors. So this issue is available on the market, but will cost at least $10,000 and more for an unimpaired high grade circulated or proof example.
Similarly, a low grade circulated 1873-CC, which has a mintage of just 2,300, is available at a comparable cost, or much more for a higher grade. The lowest mintage Seated dollars are the 1851 and 1852 issues, at 1,300 and 1,100, respectively, per the “Redbook” and the 1871-CC at 1,376. PCGS estimates there are only about 150 1871-CC dollars that survive. These should be available for less than $10,000 for a low grade circulated example, on up for higher grades.
The 1851 and 1852 issues may be available for similar prices for comparable grades. However, there are also “original” and “restrike” proof examples of these coin issues as well. Those normally begin trading for at least two or three times these values when found, and go up from there.
The most common issues are the 1859-O and 1860-O coins. They were struck in relatively high mintages, at 360,000 and 515,000, respectively. Additionally, a hoard of a few 1,000 coin Mint bags of these coins were found in U.S. Treasury vaults and released during the 1960s, making them very common in Mint State. However, they are usually peppered with contact marks.
Besides contact marks, some collectors are finicky about the strikes of Seated Liberty silver dollars. Sometimes these coins are found with weakness in various places on Miss Liberty on the obverse, as well as on the eagle, such as on the tops of its wings, claws, shield, etc. However, it might be a good idea to relax expectations on strike when locating available examples that are otherwise problem-free and that have “original,” pleasing surfaces that have not been harmed by cleanings and retoning.
Although a few Seated Liberty silver dollars are known in “gem” condition, most Mint State examples that exist are in the lower MS numerical grades. Building a collection of Mint State Seated Liberty silver dollars is challenging, but doable. You might want to allow at least five to ten years to accomplish this feat.
Therefore, building a collection in Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated condition offers more availability and selectivity regarding the overall looks of the coins. I recommend building a collection of these coins in as similar a grade and “look” as possible.
Mark Ferguson has been dealing in high-end rare coins and precious metals since 1969. He has graded coins professionally for PCGS and was the Market Analyst for Coin World’s Coin Values magazine between 2002 and 2009. He has written feature articles and regular columns for Coin World, Coin Values magazine, The Coin Dealer Newsletter, Numismatic News, The Numismatist, ANA Journal, Coin News – a British publication, and currently writes a weekly column for CoinWeek. He is a recognized authority in appraising rare coins and a recognized expert on the 1804 silver dollar, which is known as “The King of American Coins.” Mark can be reached at Mark Ferguson Rare Coins, LLC (www.MFRareCoins.com).