The 1860-O Seated Liberty dime is a coin with an unusual and fascinating past. It is a date that marked the end of New Orleans dime production for more than three decades, and based on its low mintage, it appears to also be a date that might well reflect the fact that the Civil War was on the horizon.
Certainly in 1860, the nation was in the process of preparing for an event most could not have imagined. It could not have been a happy time, but in 1860, New Orleans went ahead with dime production anyway. This was not unusual, as New Orleans had been the only facility other than the main mint in Philadelphia to make silver coins until the San Francisco Mint opened in 1854.
There had been problems at New Orleans over the years, but they had not kept the facility from producing a large number of dimes, sometimes even more than 1 million annually. In 1860, however, New Orleans only produced 40,000.
We cannot be sure of the exact reason for the low mintage of the 1860-O. However, New Orleans was a federal facility located about as far south as possible. There was little chance that the facility could avoid capture in the event of secession. If captured, inside there might well have been amounts of silver and gold that Louisiana and the Confederate States of America could have put to good use.
Precisely what happened to the 1860-O after being produced and released into circulation is unknown. Any New Orleans denomination has poor numbers in Mint State condition. Even the few collectors living in New Orleans would probably not have been too concerned about acquiring an 1860-O. It was just not the way people collected at the time.
Also, entering circulation in 1860, with war about to break out, meant bad things for the potential survival of any coin.
We certainly know that not every 1860-O survived. In fact, they are very tough in any grade, with a G-4 listing at $450, a high price when you consider the prices of earlier low mintage dates: the 1846 is just $250. In MS-60, the 1860-O lists for $8,500.
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The significant rarity of the 1860-O is important, but so are the numbers in circulated grades. The two main grading services have seen far fewer than 1,000 of them. This is no $15 Seated Liberty dime, which you don’t grade. The 1860-0 starts at $450 and it’s a coin people regularly have authenticated and graded.
That makes it a very tough coin and a historic one as well, and you have to like that combination.