This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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All those Seated Liberty coins. What’s a collector to do? Six different denominations, rarities, dates and mintmarks, spanning 54 years. Even for a devoted fan of the series, completing any set of these classic American coins seems hopeless.
Or is it? Finding a set-within-a-set can enable a Seated Liberty fan to complete a set to his liking. Take each denomination within the series, and see how a nice collection can be assembled, maybe without a big cash outlay.
Tiny half dimes were minted until 1873, with the Seated Liberty design first appearing in 1837. The first year coin featured an obverse with no stars, giving a cameo effect to the design. Popular and in demand from type collectors, this “no stars” coin is costly in higher grades. Why not begin a half dime set featuring the “with stars” obverse? The set begins with the 1838 date, and continues through 1859.
If you concentrate on finding one specimen of each date, not worrying about the famous varieties with and without arrows at the date, you can build a meaningful collection.
Mintage figures were fairly good, except for the 1846. Check out the values for these early coins. Most of the “with stars” half dimes are not expensive at all, especially considering these are small coins over 150 years old. How many survive in all grades?
Half dime lovers know that many of these little pieces were well worn, scratched, marked, bent, or otherwise abused. A collector who takes the time to look for nice coins, and is a bit fussy about appearance, eye appeal and strike, can come up with some beautiful coins. A good magnifier is essential.
The collector of early half dimes also has the satisfaction of knowing his collection is not a modern common set, in high grades, that any well-heeled collector can buy in one fell swoop. Early half dimes are truly numismatically desirable and are something special to the collector who appreciates the beauty and scarcity of Seated Liberty coinage.
A set of later date half dimes, featuring the legend “United States of America” on the obverse and a different wreath on the reverse, can also be fun and challenging to build, although the cash outlay may be a bit higher. Prices for better grade coins are somewhat higher than prices for the “stars on obverse” coins. A half dime set from 1860-1873, the end of the series, is a short set but historical and desirable.
The Seated Liberty dimes of the same years bear the same design motif as their companion half dimes. Prices for these early dimes are quite a bit higher than prices for half dimes. A date set of these dimes would be a wonderful set for its scarcity. Look at some of the mintage figures. Even the most common pieces have mintages of a million or less. The dime with the highest mintage, the 1853 with arrows at the date, has a mintage of over 12 million. Compare that to the mintages of common coins selling for uncommon prices.
Later dated Seated Liberty dimes with “United States of America” on the obverse can prove to be a more difficult and expensive set to put together. Prices are robust, but when you learn more about the series and recognize what scarce coins they really are, a collector may feel that any dime of these dates is an incredible bargain.
Don’t forget the short-lived 20-cent coin, a short set in itself. The four circulation issue coins (1875-P, -S, -CC, and the 1876-P) comprise a small set that not many collectors can own, or aspire to own. If you want something different, try a set of 20-cent pieces.
Seated Liberty quarters are not exactly number one on the collecting hit parade. Many dates are available for reasonable prices. If you cannot manage a full set, from 1838-1891, try a set of either “no motto” or “with motto” quarters. Try a date set without the many varieties, with and without arrows, with and without drapery on Liberty’s arm. The earlier dates, lacking the motto “In God We Trust,” can be located for better prices than you would think. These classic coins, over 150 years old, are not in as high demand as certain modern coins. You may have to do some real searching, but you will be rewarded with a set of genuinely scarce United States quarters.
Check out the mintage figures. None has a mintage of even a million until 1853, with over 15 million struck. Prices of dates such as 1843, 1844, 1845, are not bad at all in high-grade circulated condition.
Quarters with motto are scarcer and more expensive. Try a date set, perhaps in better grades, for a real challenge. Everyone in the collecting community will not be seeking these 19th century issues, but some dates are difficult to find. And study the mintage figures. Look at the 1870 with a mintage of 86,400. The 1862, a Civil War year quarter, has a mintage of less than a million. The 1872, with a mintage of 182,000, is another date available at a decent price.
Seated Liberty half dollars are larger and show off the design to better advantage than the smaller coins. Here’s another big set that can be broken up to form a set-within-a-set of really scarce coins. Half dollars come in “no motto” and “with motto” types, just like the quarters, spanning the same years. Try a set of the “no motto” coins. Many dates are scarce and are not priced too badly – if you can find these coins. The 1845, with a mintage of only 589,000, is a great example.
If you prefer the “with motto” type, you can find many dates of half dollars that are reasonably priced. Collect one of each date. Maybe you like issues of the New Orleans Mint and you can collect these. The Carson City fan can find a number of coins, but they are costly, especially the 1870, from the Carson City Mint’s first year of operation. San Francisco Mint coins are always popular, but there is one rarity: the 1878-S, with a mintage of only 12,000.
The last few years of the Seated Liberty half dollar saw very low mintages, except for the very last year of 1891. The dates of 1882 and 1884 had mintages of only 4,400 each year. How many still survive, in any grade? And these figures are for regular issue half dollars, not proofs. A set of the last years of this type, from 1879-1891, can form a really unusual set of beauty and rarity. Not many collectors can hope to own a set like that, but it is there if you truly desire something different.
Silver dollars are always a favorite with collectors. Many numismatists seek complete runs of Morgan or Peace dollars. The Seated Liberty dollars are much scarcer, and many dates are expensive, but what an impressive set they make. These coins, too, come in “no motto” and “with motto” types. Try a date set of “no motto” Seated dollars. Most were struck at Philadelphia. Look at the mintage of the first year 1840, and its prices, and compare with the more common 1842. Not much difference. Keep in mind these are large silver coins, many melted for their silver content, or shipped overseas in the export trade. How many of these coins still exist?
Collect the Seated dollars of the San Francisco Mint for a nice short set. The 1872-S, with a mintage of only 9,000, is another scarce Seated Liberty coin available for a good price. Carson City fans can collect one of each issue – only four dates, but what a rare and desirable set this would make.
Seated Liberty collectors have so many choices when putting together a set of coins. You can build a type set of all Seated coins. Collect the coins of your favorite mint, or a certain historical decade. Save a specimen of each variety, including the coins with and without drapery, the coins with arrows at the date, with and without stars, with and without motto. This classic design was used for many years, and many different sets-within-a-set can be custom designed by you from any or all denominations. If you decide to pursue a set of Seated coins, you can end up with a beautiful set with true scarcity.