If you are looking for some good values on challenging and interesting older coins, the Seated Liberty quarters from San Francisco and Carson City would be an awfully good group to consider. While you do not have Seated Liberty quarters from the early years in the issues of San Francisco and Carson City simply because the two facilities had not yet opened for business they made up for lost time with a range of interesting and sometimes difficult dates.
The Seated Liberty quarter had been in production since 1838 when the San Francisco Mint would produce it’s first coins in 1854. In fact, the 1854 mintages from San Francisco would include no Seated Liberty quarters or any other silver denominations. It was simply a matter of priorities at a place that was uncomfortable and too small to really be expected to produce large numbers of all denominations every year. The first San Francisco Seated Liberty quarter would be produced in 1855 and the 1855-S would have what would prove to be a solid mintage by the standards of San Francisco with 396,500 being produced. That makes the historic 1855-S a $40 coin in G-4 today with an MS-60 listed at $2,000 and that is a pretty good price as the Professional Coin Grading Service has graded just nine examples in Mint State.
The next year there would be a design change as the arrows at the date, which had been placed there in 1853, were removed. The new type would last for roughly a decade and during most of that period San Francisco would produce Seated Liberty quarters although sometimes the totals were low.
A low mintage was not the case with the 1856-S when the mintage was 286,000. That makes the 1856-S a $45 coin in G-4 although if you can find an example of the 1856-S/S the price is $150 in the same grade. In MS-60 the 1856-S is at $2,200, but again the listing is low as PCGS reports only four examples, which is not at all unusual as at the time there were very few collectors in San Francisco to save new issues as they were released.
The 1857-S would have the first of what would be a number of San Francisco quarter mintages of less than 100,000 pieces with a total production of 82,000. That makes it a more expensive date in G-4 at $125 while an MS-60 is listed at $2,750, but they are legitimately tough with PCGS reporting just four examples in Mint State. Clearly if there was added demand for the 1857-S in Mint State its price could go significantly higher as there is simply no supply.
The 1858-S at 121,000, while not a high mintage, is at least more available and that is seen in its price of $70 in G-4, but the 1858-S does not even have an MS-60 listing. In fact, the 1858-S may be one of the real condition rarities no one knows because if you can find an AU-50 at the current price of $1,250 you should buy it as PCGS has never graded an example higher than XF-40. That is not often seen with Seated Liberty quarters even from San Francisco and it could make a nice example of the 1858-S a real bargain if you can find one.
The 1859-S had a mintage of 80,000, making it another $125 date in G-4 and it too has no price in MS-60 and once again with good reason as PCGS has not seen any and only two examples in AU.
While the 1858-S and 1859-S are tough and virtually unknown in higher grades the 1860-S, which had a mintage of just 56,000, is even tougher with a current G-4 listing of $200. Where the 1860-S really gets tough is in any grade above VF-20 as PCGS reports one coin and that was an XF-40 but no examples of the 1860-S in AU or Mint State.
The 1861-S with a mintage of 96,000 is not much easier. The simple fact is that San Francisco quarters at the time released into circulation were basically gone. They would circulate but there would be no collectors coming along for years to potentially pull them from circulation. As a result many would get worn out and melted or simply lost, leaving us a poor supply today even in G-4 as is seen in the $90 price of the 1861-S in G-4. Once again PCGS has seen no example of the 1861-S in Mint State although there has been an AU-58 – the one 1861-S seen in a higher grade.
In the case of the 1862-S the lack of nice examples should be no surprise as the pattern was certainly in place and the 1862-S would have a mintage of just 67,000. In fact, the 1862-S is not as expensive as might be expected at $80 in G-4 and $2,750 in MS-60, which is a real surprise because PCGS has actually seen eight examples in Mint State.
It was 1863 when with the suspension of specie payments and national hoarding of all silver and gold issues that the mintage in Philadelphia tended to go down dramatically. The mintages for some denominations in San Francisco, however, remained fairly normal, but that was not the case for the quarter as San Francisco had no quarter production in 1863 and when quarter production resumed in 1864 the mintage was just 20,000 pieces, making the 1864-S a much better date at $400 in G-4 and $7,000 in MS-60 where PCGS has seen four examples.
The 1865-S would have a mintage of 59,300, which means a G-4 price of $125. Interestingly enough we see a slow increase in saving by this time in San Francisco as the Mint State totals for the two prior years were rising and that continues with the 1865-S, which is priced at $2,350 in MS-60 and where PCGS reports another increase to 11 examples called Mint State.
There would be a change for the 1866-S as IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse of the Seated Liberty quarter. What would not change were the low mintages with the 1866-S having a total of 28,500 pieces and that results in a price of $250 in G-4 while an MS-60 is put at $3,000. The PCGS total reflects the higher price as PCGS has seen only four examples of the 1866-S in Mint State.
The 1867-S mintage would continue to be low at 48,000 pieces, putting a G-4 at $200. Once again there is no price listing in Mint State because once again there is virtually no supply as PCGS reports a single example graded MS-61.
The 1868-S with a 96,000 mintage is only a little more available with a G-4 price of $95 and an MS-60 listing at $2,000. In the case of Mint State there have been two examples seen by PCGS so while more available than other dates it is hardly what could be called an ample supply.
The 1869-S came in with a mintage of 76,000, which puts it at $100 in G-4 with an MS-60 at $2,400 and ironically there actually are a few more examples reported in Mint State with PCGS reporting five called Mint State so far.
In 1870 there was no Seated Liberty quarter production in San Francisco but there was still a Seated Liberty quarter from a mint in the West as it was 1870 when Carson City first opened its doors. The new facility seemed to try in its first year to produce a representative sample of denominations unlike San Francisco which had opened only with gold issues. The mintages, however, were generally low with the 1870-CC Seated Liberty quarter having a mintage of just 8,340. That total coupled with virtually no saving of coins in the area produces a price of $8,500 in G-4 while an MS-60 isn’t even priced. Realistically, Mint State examples may not exist as the PCGS totals show only 21 examples graded and none of them were better than XF-45.
In its second year Carson City would only do a little better with a mintage of 10,890, which puts the 1871-CC at $3,500 in G-4. In XF-40 the 1871-CC would be $18,000 and here the PCGS totals show two Mint State coins and interestingly they are in high grades with one being an MS-64 while the other is an MS-65.
With a second mint operating in the region, the pressure, if there ever was any, was off in terms of San Francisco quarter production, but the facility returned to production in 1871 with a mintage of 30,900. That total puts the 1871-S at $300 in G-4 with an MS-60 at $3,000 although interestingly enough in the case of the 1871-S the numbers are much higher with PCGS reporting a total of 14 graded including four in MS-65 and two in MS-66 and those are unusual totals for a San Francisco coin of the type.
Mintages at both Carson City and San Francisco rose in 1872, which was natural as silver coins were returning to use and as the vast wealth of the Comstock Lode was being tapped. The 1872-CC would have a mintage of 22,850, which produces a price of $1,100 in G-4 while an MS-60 is at $14,000 although there PCGS has seen just a single MS-62.
The 1872-S is a tougher coin to explain as it had a mintage of 83,000, which is higher, yet a G-4 lists for $850 while an MS-60 is $7,500 and the PCGS total again stands at just a single coin. In all probability the 1872-S was melted. That is possible as in 1873 the amount of silver in silver issues would be increased slightly and that would make the older issues containing less silver good candidates for the melting pot. We cannot be certain that happened, but it seems like the most likely reason for a date that should have been available being so tough.
The changes in 1873 would also play a role in the 1873-CC, which had a reported mintage of 4,000, but which is a great rarity today with perhaps half a dozen known to exist. The mintage was almost certainly melted with just a few coins that were apparently purchased by a collector or official at the time known to exist today. They are all upper grades, which is also unusual, with a sale producing a price of $106,375 at a Heritage auction in 1999.
The new coins with more silver were produced in 1873 and for the first two years they would have arrows at the date. The 1873-CC had a mintage of 12,462, which makes it a better date at $3,500 in G-4 while an XF-50 is at $$17,000, which is justified by the fact that PCGS has seen only a single example in Mint State.
In the case of the 1873-S, the mintage was higher at 156,000 and that total, which was certainly above average at the time for San Francisco, produces a price of just $35 in G-4 with an MS-60 at $1,200 and in the case of an MS-60 the 10 examples seen in Mint State by PCGS make it a date which can at least be found in the uncirculated range.
In 1874 there would be no Carson City mintage while San Francisco reflected the fact that much of the silver from the Comstock Lode was being sent to San Francisco from mine owners who did not want to do business with the Carson City facility. San Francisco on the other hand had a mintage of 392,000 in 1874, which makes the 1874-S a relatively easy date at $33 in G-4 with an MS-60 being $900 and if anything that is high as the 1874-S for some reason has very high numbers with PCGS reporting over 125 examples in Mint State.
In 1875 the arrows were removed creating the final type of Seated Liberty quarter. Something else would change as well as starting in 1875 we see that the dates from Carson City and San Francisco become more available than they were in the years just prior to 1875. The 1875-CC had a much higher mintage as well at 140,000 pieces and that produces a $75 G-4 price today while an MS-60 is $1,600 and while the 14 seen in Mint State by PCGS would not be large for a date from another facility it is a larger than usual supply for a Carson City Seated Liberty quarter.
The 1875-S had a mintage of 680,000 and that certainly means the 1875-S is more available with a G-4 at $25 while an MS-60 is at $575 and there too we see higher numbers with PCGS reporting over 40 examples.
The 1876 mintages would reflect the fact that the amount of silver from the Comstock Lode was simply flooding the market causing continuing problems as the price of silver was dropping. The 1876-CC Seated Liberty quarter would have a mintage previously unheard of from Carson City as the total stood at 4,944,000. That total puts a G-4 at $50 – higher than you might think except for the market magic of the “CC” mintmark. An MS-60 is at $450 and that is certainly fair as the PCGS total of the 1876-CC stands at about 120 pieces.
The 1876-S was very much the same story with a mintage of 8,596,000 and that produces a $27.50 price in G-4 today with an MS-60 listed at just $245. Once again the numbers graded support the prices as the 1876-S has been graded over 150 times in Mint State by PCGS including 14 which were MS-65 or better.
The trend continued in 1877 with the 1877-CC having a mintage of 4,192,000 making it available at $50 in G-4. In MS-60 the 1877-CC lists for $450 which is basically the available date price for a Seated Liberty quarter from Carson City. In fact, the 1877-CC is more available than the price indicates as in the 1950s and 1960s according to Q. David Bowers in his book American Coin Treasures and Hoards there were hundreds that hit the market. The coins have been absorbed today but it is still no problem finding a Mint State 1877-CC as is seen by the fact that PCGS has graded well over 275 examples in Mint State.
In the case of the 1877-S there was a mintage of 8,996,000 some of which included a horizontal “S” over the regular “S” and that error is slightly better at $45 in G-4 as opposed to the regular 1877-S price of just $14. In MS-60 the 1877-S is at $27.50 while the 1877-S/horizontal S is at $650 although even the error is at nearly 20 called Mint State by PCGS.
Carson City would produce its final Seated Liberty quarter in 1878 as after 1878 the facility would be only producing silver dollars and gold. The 1878-CC had a mintage of 996,000, which certainly was large, and that makes it an available date at $55 in G-4 with an MS-60 at $550 and there we do see a reduction in availability from the 1877-CC, but the total of about 120 pieces in Mint State at PCGS is still ample.
The 1878-S would have a mintage of just 140,000 and realistically we do not know what happened to the date as it lists for $165 in G-4 while an MS-60 is at $1,450. The PCGS total in Mint State stands at just nine pieces so certainly the 1878-S is fairly priced. Why it is in such short supply remains an interesting question and one where we really do not have a good answer.
One of the reasons for the limited supply of the 1878-S is possibly that they circulated a long time and were retired. It becomes a more real possibility when you realize that the next San Francisco Seated Liberty quarter would not be produced until 1888. Demand for coins dropped as Jan. 1 1879, passed, which is the date the United States guaranteed that paper money would be completely exchangeable for gold or silver as it was prior to the Civil War.
The 1888-S with a mintage of 1,216,000 does suggest that years of no production might have produced a shortage as it’ a large mintage and one which makes the 1888-S an available date at $27.50 in G-4 while an MS-60 is $265, which is an available date price.
The final San Francisco Seated Liberty quarter would be the 1891-S and it had an even higher mintage of 2,216,000, which also makes it readily available at just $28.50 in G-4 while an MS-60 is $265 with about 90 in Mint State seen by PCGS.
The next year the Barber quarter would be introduced and that would be the end of the Seated Liberty quarters. Over the years since the first Seated Liberty quarter was produced at a mint in the Old West back in 1855 there had been a fascinating group of dates including some that are extremely tough. It’s probably an impossible collection in Mint State, but most of the Seated Liberty quarters from the mints in the West can be found in circulated grades and usually at very reasonable prices. That makes them a collection that is a good value both in terms of their scarcity and their history.