If there ever was a classic type coin, the 1853 Seated Liberty half dollar is that coin. Its prices are higher than might ordinarily be expected because of type demand and it seems likely that with increasing interest in type collecting, the 1853 Seated Liberty half dollar will be moving still higher.
The story of the 1853 Seated Liberty half dollar is a fairly simple one. The United States had been having a terrible time prior to 1853 with silver coins. The problem was that the vast gold discovery in California in 1848 had upset the traditional gold to silver ratio. Suddenly, silver was higher priced in terms of gold and silver coins cost more to produce than their face value. The public knew that and started hoarding.
The Congress needed to reduce the amount of silver in the regular silver issues but instead, in 1851, it authorized a 75 percent silver three-cent piece. That bought time. It took until 1853, but eventually the decision was made to reduce the amount of silver in standard denominations. The half dollar would go from .3867 ounce of silver to .3599 ounce. Mintage of the new silver coins began immediately and, in most cases, were large.
An interesting decision was made in that it was decided that the new and slightly lighter issues had to have some type of marking. It was decided in the case of the half dollar to add arrows to the date, which was done with the other denominations as well and to have rays added to the reverse, which was done only on the half dollar and quarter.
As it worked out, the rays would only be used in 1853 as in 1854 they were gone, although the arrows at the date stayed until 1856. That made the 1853 a one-year type coin. Under the circumstances, we could expect only a limited supply in Mint State. Actually, that supply is better than might be expected, but it can never be enough to fill the sort of demand there is today for top quality examples.
There is a minor problem as well. The Mint was in a rush to get silver coins out and circulating. Quality was not perfect. It is actually better in the half dollar than in other denominations, but the fact remains that with the unusual speed, quality was going to suffer. This resulted in light strikes found on Liberty, the stars and eagle with a luster that also can vary.
Mintage was 3,532,708 and that total was very high at the time as it was a period when half dollars rarely topped 4 million.
The current prices of the 1853 are $36.50 in G-4, $1,500 in MS-60 and $24,500 in MS-65. In all grades below MS-65, it is slightly lower than the 1853-O with arrows and rays which had a mintage of 1,328,000. Actually, based on numbers, it should be even lower but the type demand keeps the prices for the two close as while there might be more examples of the 1853, they, being less expensive, are the first choice of type collectors.
The grading service numbers are really quite interesting as NGC has graded 972 examples of the 1853 and about 279 were called Mint State. As a word of caution, 164 were called AU-58, so there are a lot of close calls in terms of Mint State in the case of the 1853. A total of 27 were called MS-65 or better. At PCGS, the total graded is 1,237 and about 375 were called Mint State with another roughly 350 being AU. In the case of MS-65 or better, the total was just 22.
The numbers tell us a lot as the 1853 in AU and lower Mint State grades is available, but it will never be ordinary.
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