In the 1840 reelection campaign of president Martin Van Buren the phrase “O.K.” came into use, derived from the “Old Kinderhook” nickname that was in reference to his Kinderhook, New York birthplace. Despite the positive connotation today, the times were anything but OK. Concerned about the growing use of state bank notes to pay for public land purchases, the federal government in 1836 announced it would no longer accept those notes, demanding gold or silver instead. This precipitated a tightening of credit, called-in loans, and a rush to withdraw deposits, leading to the “Panic of 1837” which left thousands unemployed. Against this backdrop Mint Director Robert Patterson sought to reestablish the prominence of the silver dollar in American coinage. The last standard dollars had been minted in 1804 (though dated 1803) but few actually circulated. The new coins were designed by Christian Gobrecht from sketches of Liberty by artist Thomas Sully, and of “Peter”, the Mint’s eagle mascot, by artist Titian Peale. Gobrecht’s dramatic flying eagle design was used only for three years, replaced in 1840 by the John Reich “sandwich board” eagle design, so-called because of the placement of the shield across the eagle’s breast.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The obverse of the Liberty Seated dollar displays Liberty seated on a rock in Classical flowing robes, head turned toward her right (viewer’s left). Her left arm is bent, raised hand holding a liberty pole with a cap. The right arm is extended downward at her side, with the hand balancing a shield across which the word Liberty is displayed in a curving banner. Thirteen six-point stars surround the seated figure inside a dentilled rim with seven on the left side, one between Liberty’s head and the cap, and the remaining five along the right. The date is centered at the bottom between the base of the rock and the rim. On the reverse, an eagle is prominently displayed inside a dentilled rim. The eagle’s wings are partially spread but folded downward at the joint as if the majestic bird had just landed or perhaps instead is preparing to fly off. An olive branch is in the dexter claw (viewer’s left) ; the sinister claw clutches three arrows. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircles the top two-thirds of the coin inside the rim, with the ONE DOL. denomination centered at the bottom. Most were minted at Philadelphia; branch New Orleans (O) and San Francisco (S) mintmarks are located below the eagle, above the denomination.
Mintages of the Liberty Seated dollar varied extensively year by year. Only in 1860 did the number coined exceed the half million mark, but many dollars were melted as bullion in the mid-1860s. Census/population reports shown several thousand business strike grading events, mostly between XF to near-Mint state; few have graded Gem or higher, none above MS68. Some prooflike coins have been certified. No more than 50 proofs made per year until 1858, and several years show either one or no proofs at all. Highest certified proof grade is PR68. Approximately fifty varieties are known in both business strikes and proofs, most of minor punching variations or die combinations. Prices for business strikes are modest up to AU55, jumping by 50% to 100% per grade for each step above that. Key dates for business strikes are 1851 and 1852 at prices more than ten times that of other dates at low grades, moderating to 2 to 4 times at upper grades; and 1859-S at 5 to 8 times the premium from AU55 up. All pre-1858 proofs are expensive and rare; those from 1859 through the end of the series in 1866 are scarce, with prices dropping below that of equivalent business strike grades. Modest numbers of cameo and deep cameo proofs have been certified.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht
Circulation Mintage: high 515,000 (1860-O), low 1,100 (1852; none for 1851-O and 1858)
Proof Mintage: high 1,330 (1860), low 1 (1851-O; none for 1846-O, 1850-O, 1859-O, 1859-S, and 1860-O)
Diameter: ±38.1 mm, reeded edge
Metal content: 90% Silver – 10% copper
Weight: ±26.73 grams
Varieties: Several dozen, though not extensively collected, with one 1867 repunched date the best known.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
A Buyer’s Guide to Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States. Q. David Bowers (author), John Dannreuther (editor). Zyrus Press.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.