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Seated dollar surprises 100 years later

Item1203One of the most interesting stories in numismatics has to be the appearance of a reported few thousand 1860-O Seated Liberty dollars paid out by the Treasury at face value during the major silver dollar release in the 1962-1964 period. How coins over a century old managed to emerge for face value is still very hard to understand, but it happened, making the 1860-O a very interesting date from a very tough set.

From the start, the 1860-O was different. The mintage of 515,000 was not merely unusually high, but it followed the 1859-O, which also had a high mintage for the series at 360,000. It fact the 1859-O mintage total was a record until it was broken by the 1860-O.

What perhaps made these high mintages all the more surprising is that both came from New Orleans. It was not expected that the “O” mint would outproduce Philadelphia, which cranked out 218,930 that year.

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It is hard to be certain what was going on in New Orleans to cause such high mintages. We know there was significant pressure from the merchant and banking community in San Francisco to produced dollars for use in trade with China. That pressure had seen a small number of that denomination to be made at the “S” mint for the first time in 1859. It is possible that there was other demand for silver dollars and the high mintages of 1859 and 1860 in both Philadelphia and New Orleans tend to suggest that. Prior to those years mintages had not been higher than the 184,000-piece total from Philadelphia in 1842. As late as 1858, no Seated dollars were struck for circulation.

Clearly something dramatic was happening. In the case of the 1860-O as well as the 1859-O, we wonder what. When the 1860-O dollars emerged in the 1960s, Q. David Bowers went through them and he estimates there were about 10,000 circulated Seated coins released of various dates. Only two dates were represented in the uncirculated coins released, 1859-O and 1860-O. There was one bag of the former and possibly several bags of the latter.

Considering the fact they were at the New Orleans Mint just a few months before it was seized by state and then Confederate authorities, it is a wonder that they made it to the U.S. Treasury.

Obviously, these uncirculated bags had been shipped to the North. There must be a great story behind their survival. The 1859-O dollars found were either havily bagmarked or abraided or both. The 1860-O coins, according to Bowers, were heavily bagmarked.

Another wonder in the circumstances is the fact that the 1860-O is the least expensive Seated dollar in MS-60 at $2,250, though tied with the 1859-O. The price jumps to $56,000 in MS-65, a testimony to how few escaped the bagmarks and other perils.
How close had they come to being seized by the South? We’ll never know.

 

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