Morgan and Peace dollar collectors who want a new challenge can go back to the earlier silver dollar series – the Seated Liberty dollar. Minted from 1840-1873, this series contains the best numismatics has to offer. The coins are large and made of 90 percent silver. The design is lovely and one of the most famous motifs in American coins.
There is much history behind these coins. The series includes rarities, proofs, unheralded scarce pieces, two coins not mentioned in the Mint Report, and even one unknown to exist. This series has it all.
Type collectors know there are two distinct types: without motto (1840-1865) and with motto “In God We Trust” (1866-1873).
Serious numismatists may want to acquire one of the Gobrecht dollars of 1836, 1838, or 1839. 1836 dollars show a Seated Liberty, not surrounded by stars, giving the design a cameo look. The inscription “C Gobrecht F,” standing for Christian Gobrecht Fecit (Latin for “made it”) appears on the base of the Seated Liberty motif. The reverse shows a flying eagle, in a plain field or amid stars. Gobrecht’s design was based on drawings by Thomas Sully and Titian Peale.
Gobrecht dollars were struck for circulation, although in small numbers, and were restruck from the 1850s to the 1870s. 1,000 circulation issues were struck of the 1836, 600 in 1837 but dated 1836, and 300 in 1839. These special dollars appeal to students of minting procedures, as different edge devices and die alignments are known, along with differences in the presentation of the designer’s name. Yes, these coins did circulate. I once saw one in well-worn very good condition.
Regular issue Seated dollars were struck at Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Carson City. The highest mintage coins were the 1872-P and 1871-P, the only coins in the series with mintages higher than one million. The lowest mintage coins were the 1851-P and 1852-P, not counting the special 1870-S or 1873-S. A limited number of proofs were struck at Philadelphia each year from 1858-1873, with mintages ranging from 300 in 1858 to 1,330 in 1860. Very few proofs were struck in the earlier years of 1840-1857, with exact figures unknown.
Most of the later years of Seated dollars were exported, as their metallic value was more than their face value during and immediately after the Civil War because of the inflation of the period. Many Seated dollars were shipped overseas, or melted, accounting for their scarcity. Even the so-called high mintage coins are scarce, compared to the later Morgan and Peace issues. Collectors who consider certain Morgan and Peace dollars “rare” can check out the mintage figures and estimated survival rates of Seated dollars.
Seated Liberty dollars are large coins, of 90 percent silver, showing off the well-known Seated design in all its detail. Many of these coins show evidence of cleaning, sometimes harsh cleaning; some retone over the years. Many Mint State dollars are toned in different shades of blue, green, pink, or yellow. Sometimes heavy toning covers up heavy bagmarks. Proof coins are quite lovely, with full detail, mirror surfaces, and often, gorgeous toning.
A number of 1859-O and 1860-O Seated dollars turned up in the Mint release of 1962-1963. Most of these coins are Mint State, but show bagmarks. One collector who purchased a dollar from the GSA sale in 1976 received an 1862 Seated dollar.
Collectors who may have searched for modern common coins in uncommon condition can take a look at Seated dollars. The first year regular issue coin, the 1840, had a mintage of 61,005 – extremely low by modern standards – yet prices for a nice circulated coin are not that painful. Only 20,000 were made of the 1844, yet it sells for a price similar to its more common brothers in circulated grades. The 1850, only 7,500 minted, sells for a bit more. The 1872-S, with 9,000 minted, is a classic example of a genuinely scarce coin available at a decent price. A numismatist who owns an 1872-S Seated dollar has an unrecognized scarcity.
Carson City fans have four Seated dollars to collect: 1870, 1871, 1872 and 1873. This famous set-within-a-set is a challenge to complete in any condition. The most common of the four, relatively speaking, is the 1870-CC. From a mintage of 11,758, fewer than 1,000 are known. The 1872-CC, with 3,150 minted, has a survival of about 200. The 1871-CC had the lowest mintage of the four, only 1,376, with 100 or so remaining. And the final year of the series, the 1873-CC, had a mintage of 2,300, with a lower survival rate than the 1871-CC. Perhaps 50 or so remain. A Mint State 1873-CC is indeed a treasure. Three were found in a cornerstone in 1973.
If this wasn’t enough of a numismatic challenge, there are the genuinely scarce 1851 and 1852 dollars. Approximately 50 of the 1851 remain, and about 50-100 restrikes. Perhaps 75 exist of the 1852.
Yes, it gets better. The 1870-S Seated dollar was not mentioned in the Mint director’s report, and may have been struck as souvenirs for those attending the opening ceremonies for the San Francisco Mint. Mintage figures are unknown; nine or 10 1870-S Seated dollars exist. One turned up in circulation in 1922. Another had initials removed from its field. Many of them are in very fine condition. These souvenir coins circulated.
The 1866 Seated dollar without motto is a famous rarity in American numismatics. Only two are known. Were they patterns? Fantasy pieces? Why were only two made, and for what purpose? One of these mysterious coins can be viewed at the American Numismatic Association’s Money Museum. This particular specimen was part of the du Pont Collection, stolen in 1967, and recovered in 2004.
An unknown coin ends the set of Seated dollars. According to Mint records, 700 1873-S Seated dollars were struck, but none has ever turned up. Probably the entire run was melted, but there may be a survivor somewhere. This coin was the subject of two novels. If one ever came to light, it would be worth millions.
The Seated Liberty dollar set can never be completed, as the 1873-S is not known to exist, and only one 1866 No Motto coin is available to collectors. But a set as complete as it can be is truly an accomplishment, and a beautiful set to behold. One set, including the 1870-S, was on display at the Florida United Numismatists show a few years back. The set was offered for sale at a price of $1.5 million.
A recent American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money was the setting for a partial set of Seated dollars. The coins were housed in an old-fashioned cardboard coin album. A worn 1836 Gobrecht dollar started this set, with Mint State 1859-O and 1860-O standing out. Most of the coins were sold before the convention was over.
Attractive sets of Seated Liberty dollars can be seen at major conventions. Sometimes color brochures featuring the coins can be saved by numismatists who wish a further look, close study, or just to dream. The finest set of Seated dollars is the Legend Collection. All coins are in Mint State, including the 1870-S, and the best known 1873-CC. Dollars in this set came from many famous collections, including the Norweb, Starr, Garrett and Carter collections.
Seated Liberty dollars are beautiful, rare and historical. A numismatist who desires a set has taken up a real challenge, perhaps even a lifetime pursuit.