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Time may be ripe for Seated Liberty dimes

If you are looking for a good value on an interesting coin, the Seated Liberty dime series might well be a good place to look.

Dimes as a group have been relatively slow in terms of collector interest, but with the recent showing by an 1894-S Barber dime in the Stack?s Oct. 16-17 auction, where one reached $1,552,500, it might well be that the denomination will be getting some more attention.

We?ll be watching as Superior Galleries offers a proof 1876-CC dime in its January 2008 Orlando Elite Auction. This is the only proof 1876-CC that Professional Coin Grading Service has certified, and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. has seen just four. Though available as a business strike, the number known in proof apparently remains a single-digit number. Superior?s offering is sure to whet the appetites of Seated dime collectors, and might help stimulate wider interest.

Under those circumstances you should not delay as in the Seated Liberty dime set you can find a large number of extremely tough coins,
By 1837 the U.S. Mint had pretty well turned the corner. Beset by years of being hampered by older equipment, inadequate metal supplies and a host of problems, in 1837 there finally seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel, allowing officials to start considering luxuries like changing designs. In 1836 they had even experimented with a new dollar using a Seated Liberty design of Christian Gobrecht. While the dollar would not return to regular production for a few years, the Seated Liberty design would be used almost immediately on the dime.

The 1837 Seated Liberty dime design was really not complete, but would evolve as it was used on the dime and other silver denominations. The first 1837 Seated Liberty dime had no stars on the obverse, which would last only for the Philadelphia 1837 mintage and the New Orleans issues of 1838. In the case of the 1837 it came with either a large or small date. Both currently list at $40 in G-4. In MS-60 either is $1,100 while an MS-65 which are available in small numbers is $6,500. It should be noted that in the highest grades the Philadelphia 1837 is actually quite attractive although the same cannot be said of the 1838-O, which many times is dull in appearance.

The 1838-O is a tougher date with a mintage of 406,034. However, it too lists at $40 in G-4, but $3,500 in MS-60 and $21,000 in MS-65. The 1838-O is typically tough to find in Mint State as there was virtually no saving of New Orleans issues at the time. A search for a nice example is worthwhile as the 1838-O is a historic coin. It was the first coin to emerge from the new facility in New Orleans. There had been an emission of 30 pieces in May 1838 to celebrate the opening of the new facility, those pieces being distributed to officials along with an estimated 10 examples being placed in the cornerstone of the New American Theatre. Some have claimed that any Mint State 1838-O is likely to have come from that original group, but realistically that claim has little basis in fact. Certainly the 30 as souvenirs of a big event were likely to receive special care, but the 1838-O had additional mintages in June and July with some perhaps being struck as late as January of 1839. While not a large mintage, the total of over 400,000 certainly left us with more than a few Mint State examples today. It is hard to make the case that any Mint State 1838-O came from the first group.

Beginning in Philadelphia in 1838 and New Orleans in 1839, there were stars added to the obverse. With a mintage of over four million pieces in Philly, the new type with stars but no drapery on Liberty?s left elbow is available despite its short time in production. Today the 1838 lists at $17.50 in G-4, $280 in MS-60 and $8,500 for an MS-65. There are varieties, such as large and small stars on the 1838. There?s also an 1839-O with an 1838-O reverse that is tougher as is seen in a $165 G-4 price.

The next phase in the evolution of the design came in 1840 when, after some production that year, drapery was added to Liberty?s left elbow in a design makeover by Robert Ball Hughes. There was also a change in the leaning of the shield, and those small alterations would set the design for over a decade, which is an available type at $15 in G-4, $260 in MS-60 and $2,550 in MS-65. Realistically, just having coins in MS-65 as a possibility for collectors today suggests that the some Seated Liberty dimes had large mintages and in some cases were well made. Not every denomination of the period can be found with regularity in top grades.

Being produced for more than a decade would result in some better dates like the 1841-O which had either a large or small ?O? mintmark. With the regular or small ?O? the 1841-O is priced like a regular date, but with a large ?O? it is tough, listing for $600 just in G-4.

The most famous of the regular dates of the period is the 1844, which had a mintage of 72,500. The 1844 became famous at least in part as it was called ?Orphan Annie? at one time, and the name would stick. The 1844 would be saved aggressively, with reports that there were even hoards of up to a couple hundred pieces. It was an interesting situation as the 1844 was hoarded and promoted although the promotion should not have been needed ? with its 72,500 mintage, the 1844 by definition was going to be a difficult date. It might have been a case where numbers were found, encouraging some to think there were profits to be made and the 1844 was the vehicle. Meanwhile, the much lower mintage 1846 with a mintage of 32,300 was basically ignored at the time. It might have been a case where some examples of the 1844 were found while the 1846 could not be found in any numbers, making the 1844 the natural to promote.

Whatever the case, the situation has left us with the 1844 being regularly called more available by some over the years while others have pointed to a wide range of stories explaining why it is so tough, including the notion of the 1844 being carried by troops to Mexico and given to young ladies there to be made into bracelets.

Getting to the truth amid all the hype is not easy. The 1844 is at $275 in G-4 today, more expensive than the 1846 which is $250. The 1846 recently passed the 1844 in AU-50 where it is now $2,750 which is $550 more than the 1844. Neither is readily available in Mint State.

Major grading services show the two as fairly similar in availability. The 1844 has been graded 64 times at Professional Coin Grading Service as opposed to 41 appearances of the 1846. At Numismatic Guaranty Corp., the 1844 has been seen 27 times and the 1846 a close 26. In Mint State both are very tough, the 1844 appearing six times at NGC while no 1846 was graded higher than AU-58. At PCGS the 1844 was called Mint State four times while a single MS-63 was the one 1846 to be called Mint State. It is hard to draw conclusions from the totals except to observe that the 1846 appears to be tougher while not dramatically more difficult than the more famous and costly 1844.

There are other dates that might be called sleepers. The 1845-O and 1851-O, for example, had mintages of 230,000 and 400,000, respectively. These mintages make them better dates, but as is often seen with New Orleans issues, they?re almost impossible in Mint State. Realistically, they are not common in any grade, but in Mint State we see PCGS reporting one Mint State 1845-O and just four examples of the 1851-O while at NGC there were two examples of the 1845-O and four of the 1851-O. The 1845-O is not currently priced in MS-60 in Coin Market, but the 1851-O is listed at $1,850, which is a great price when you consider the numbers known. You also have to be impressed that in G-4 either is just $25 or less. The two are good examples of the lack of saving of new issues from New Orleans and other branch mints, and that makes for potentially great values on an assortment of dates today.

A serious problem surfaced in the 1850s. The discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s upset the tradition price relationship between gold and silver. That resulted in silver coins costing more to produce than their face value, which led to widespread hoarding. Congress delayed reducing the amount of silver in silver coins, opting instead for a 75 percent silver three-cent piece. That left the Mint in a terrible position: producing coins was losing money and not producing them was allowing a national coin shortage to get worse. It appears that for a time mintages were simply reduced, probably an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.

In 1853 Congress finally acted, approving a slight silver reduction in coinage, but not before Philadelphia had produced 95,000 dimes. Some of that already low total might well have been melted, making the no arrows 1853 a difficult date today at $950 in G-4 and $800 in MS-60.

The new dimes would have arrows placed at the date to indicate their lower silver content. These arrows would stay only through 1855. Mintages were large, making the type available with a G-4 listing for as little as $8 while an MS-60 lists at $330.

The type was terminated in 1856 when the arrows were removed, creating a new design type that would last until 1860. Once again the mintages were large enough to make the type available, listing at $14 in G-4 while an MS-60 starts at $260.

There were some interesting coins in the period, such as the first dime produced at the new San Francisco facility, the 1856-S. The fact that it took a couple years before there was any dime production (San Francisco started coin production in 1854) suggests that San Francisco did not consider small silver coins as a high priority. That is supported by the 1856-S mintage of 70,000, which was followed by 60,000-piece mintages in 1858 and 1859. That makes all the early San Francisco dimes premium-priced dates with the historic 1856-S being the most costly, listing at $160 in G-4. None of the early San Francisco dates are even priced in Mint State in Coin Market, and all are very difficult.

The next design would come along in 1860 and it would see the stars on the obverse replaced by UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which was interesting as the nation was on the verge of Civil War. The type is available at reasonable prices with the most available G-4 listing under $15 while an MS-60 lists around $150.

There are of course some interesting dates, such as the 1860-O, which would be the last dime produced at New Orleans before the facility was seized by Louisiana forces in 1861. The 1860-O had a mintage of 40,000 and suspect chances for survival in that atmosphere, which results in a G-4 listing of $450 and an MS-60 of $8,500. The tense atmosphere almost certainly saw unusual things happen to the 1860-O as the nation went to war.

The Civil War and the suspension of specie payments saw major changes in dime production. New Orleans was no longer in operation, and totals at Philadelphia would drop to mere token levels with mintages under 10,000 being routine. Even the highest totals during the period 1863-1867 are under 20,000. The least expensive dates of the period are the 1863 and 1864 at $425 in G-4 while the 1867 is the most costly at $600, but all are tougher than the prices suggest.

The low-mintage dimes of the period are not as expensive in Mint State as might be expected. In part this is because there was more saving of new issues in Philadelphia. Also, by this time small numbers of proofs were being offered each year. That results in proofs being added to the supply today in upper grades, and that may help to keep prices modest as is seen in the fact that the 1866 and 1867 are the most expensive in MS-60 at $1,800 while other dates are as low as $1,200 and those are excellent prices for such low-mintage dates. The reason is probably because of the 500 or so proofs each year, which currently list at $1,400 to $1,750 in Proof-65. With proofs at those prices, it becomes difficult for the business strikes to rise to high levels because, if they become too expensive, people will simply buy the proof, thus reducing an already limited demand.

Things would not return to normal at Philadelphia in terms of mintages until the 1870s and by that time there was another facility on line producing dimes. Carson City had opened for business. As in San Francisco, it appears that dimes were not a high priority for Carson City.

The first Seated Liberty dime was not produced there until 1871, and even then the 1871-CC had a mintage of just 20,100, making it both historic and scarce. With a listing of $2,500 in G-4 while an XF-40 is $10,000, the 1871-CC ranks as one of the most expensive of all Seated Liberty dimes. Grading services PCGS and NGC support that fact. Combined, they have seen only about 40 examples and just a couple were called Mint State. That pattern would continue in Carson City as the 1872-CC also had a low mintage of 35,480 and a poor survival rate, making it better as well at $950 in G-4.

In 1873 there would be a new type of dime as the amount of silver was increased slightly and to mark that fact arrows were placed at the date. Before the change was approved, there was a mintage of 12,400 1873-CC dimes of the old content. It appears that 12,399 were destroyed as, so far, only one example of the 1873-CC no arrows design has surfaced. It is an MS-64, causing many to suspect that it might have been a coin set aside for the Assay Commission. Whatever the reason for its survival, the no arrows 1873-CC is one of the few unique coins of the United States and that makes it an extreme rarity. In 1999 it brought a price of $632,500 at a Heritage sale. With a number of coins since that time topping the $1 million mark, it would seem likely that if we see the 1873-CC offered at any point in the near future, a price well above $1 million would be in order.

The arrows at the date would last for two years. The most available examples of this type list at $13.50 in G-4 while an MS-60 is about $500 with an MS-65 at $4,500. There are, however, better dates. The 1873-CC with arrows at the date lists at $2,350 in G-4, and it is joined by the 1874-CC, mintage just 10,817, which lists for $5,000 in G-4.

The arrows were removed in 1875, creating the final type of Seated Liberty dime that would last until the design was replaced in 1892. The final type is available despite some low mintages. A type G-4 lists for around $12.50 while an MS-60 can be as low as $125 with an MS-65 at $1,100. Interesting dates include the 1885-S, which had a mintage of just 43,690, listing in G-4 at $450 and at $5,000 in MS-60. There is also the 1886-S, which is interesting as it was the last dime to have a mintage lower than the 1916-D Mercury. The 1886-S, while lower mintage than the 1916-D, is far less expensive as demand is much less. The 1886-S lists at $50 in G-4 and $600 in MS-60, showing you the sort of values to be found in Seated Liberty dimes as realistically that MS-60 listing is well below the current $1,000 listing of the 1916-D in G-4.

While demand remains limited for dimes, it can be expected that good values will continue to be found among the Seated Liberty dimes. That makes the set a fascinating one to attempt, rich in history and generally available at least for now at very reasonable prices. For those looking for a good buy on sometimes very tough coins, the Seated Liberty dime series has a lot to offer.