There are a lot of real sleepers to be found in the coins of the 1800s. In addition to being exceptional values, some of them come with great stories. The 1859-S Seated Liberty dime has to be considered one of those coins.
In 1859 the San Francisco area still had many of the earmarks of the Gold Rush, which had been going on for about a decade. Certainly the San Francisco of 1859 looked little like the sleepy town of 1848, but it was a city very much in transition.
A lot of things in the city in 1859 had basically been thrown up in a hurry in the heat of the Gold Rush.
The U.S. Mint in San Francisco was no different. The government had not exactly hurried to open a mint in San Francisco, but there had been no real choice. Of course that did not mean that a world-class facility had to be constructed, and it wasn?t. They simply bought the Moffat building and equipment that had been in use. The building was woefully inadequate. It was far too small, too loud and smelled of acid fumes. Some might have contended that those were its good points. There was no way the facility could handle the coinage needs of the growing area.
It was not ready to start producing all the possibilities, and there is a pretty good case to be made that it was never capable of producing all the gold and silver denominations. In the first year of 1854, gold was the natural priority. The first dime was not even made until 1856, and then the mintage was just 70,000 pieces.
Things had not changed much in 1859. The total dime mintage was 60,000. Under normal circumstances a dime with a mintage of just 60,000 is going to be a better date, but this was San Francisco in 1859, and that could hardly be seen as normal. There were no collectors to save examples and probably very little interest in small silver coins.
The 1859-S is a great deal today at its current price of $160 in G-4, with an AU-50 at $3,000. There are very few in Mint State since there was no one to save them when they were released.
To date, the Professional Coin Grading Service has seen just 23 examples of the 1859-S, and only two, an MS-63 and an MS-65, were called Mint State.
The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports a total of 13 examples of the 1859-S graded so far, and two were called MS-62. No others reached Mint State.
If you add the totals together in Mint State or in all grades combined, the result is the same. You have to come away with the very real feeling that this coin is much tougher than its price indicates. It should be no surprise since it had a mintage of just 60,000 and came at a time when no one was collecting them.
To find any today is probably luck, and to find one at today?s prices is a real opportunity.