This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Seated Liberty coins are one of the best deals going in the rare coin market today, especially for the collectors who want scarcity for their dollars. In fact, in any number of cases such as the 1879 Seated Liberty half dollar it is hard to imagine how such an issue can be so inexpensive.
In most cases if you were told a coin had a mintage of 5,900 pieces, you could suspect thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars for any example. You would be right if the coin happened to be a Franklin half dollar or a Walking Liberty half dollar, but the 1879 has a current MS-65 price of $3,650. The basic fact regarding the 1879 is that it is a Seated Liberty half dollar and demand there is not quite the same as demand for Walking Liberty half dollars.
The 1879’s mintage can really make you question why anyone bothered at all. Certainly if half dollars were needed back in 1879 it is hard to imagine that fewer than 6,000 would have made any difference. Clearly half dollars were not needed, at least not for regular circulation.
Actually, the 1879 was the first in a series of extremely low mintage half dollars. The prior year mintages had been below average but Philadelphia had still managed to produce well over 1 million pieces. In 1877 the Philadelphia total was more than 8 million. To drop from 6 million to 6,000 is, to put it mildly, a very significant change. With about 1,100 of the 1879 total being proofs, that total falls closer to 4,800 business strikes.
Either the Philadelphia facility was involved in extensive repairs or perhaps had the employee party of the century because when it came to producing dimes, quarters and half dollars, nothing was getting done.
The 1879 cent production was fairly normal if not high at more than 16 million, but the nickel production of less than 30,000 pieces was also almost comical. If, however, you turn to dollars you find the probable answer. Proof Trade dollars were produced in 1879, but there was also a record production of 14,807,100 Morgan dollars. It seems as though, similar to the 1920s, the Mint’s focus on producing gold and silver dollars saw all other denominations have lower mintages.
The 1879 half dollar is a good value today. It is not, however, a get-rich-quick opportunity. There is that problem of a lack of demand and that is unlikely to change dramatically.
In G-4 it lists at $275. In MS-60 the current $700 is precisely the same as the price in 1998. If you want to treat your coins a bit like a stock portfolio, the 1879 is not a good pick. The 1879 half dollar is for someone who wants a good and very low mintage coin at an extremely reasonable price. It is excellent in terms of value but if investment is your concern, the 1879 half dollar is probably not for you.