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1882 Seated Liberty Half Dollar

An 1882 Seated Liberty half dollar PCGS-graded PR-65 Cameo. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions, www.HA.com.)

Good deals are something everyone wants. Dealers and collectors, when they get a chance, will even pay extra to have the first chance to look at a nice collection that has not been seen for years. This is how strong the competition can be for nice coins. If you happen to want a good value too, you are going to have to look awfully hard. They are out there, but oftentimes in the series very few collect.

Take the Seated Liberty half dollar. There are a few collectors of Seated Liberty half dollars (with the emphasis on few). It is characteristic of designs people have never seen in their lifetime in circulation that the total number of collectors is relatively small. It may be a case of “out of sight, out of mind,” but it almost certainly is also a case where many older coins are not promoted by dealers, and without promotion, they have a hard time enticing many new collectors.

There is probably another pretty good reason why collector numbers are limited for things like Seated Liberty half dollars. That reason would be dates like the 1882. The 1882 is a great value if you can find one, but trying to put together a collection that has a lot of dates like the 1882 might cause many to switch to state quarters or Roosevelt dimes.

If you go back and check the mintage total for the 1882 Seated Liberty half dollar, the number will be exactly 5,500. The total is not missing a zero or two; it simply was 5,500, which was about 4,000 for circulation and 1,100 proofs.

Now, if you had a Kennedy half dollar, a new South Dakota quarter or Roosevelt dime with a mintage like that, we would never hear the end of it. Prices would go right through the roof and it would be the only price anyone would care about for a period of six months. The 1998 matte-finish Kennedy half dollar had a mintage 10 times greater than the 1882 Seated Liberty half dollar and it has a survival rate of about 99.99 percent while the 1882 was sold or released back in 1882, so the two do not even remotely compare.

Today, if you want a matte-finish Kennedy half dollar you are going to pay around $400. If you want an MS-60 1882 Seated Liberty half dollar you are going to pay $1,000.

To be fair, the 1882 half dollar at its prices today and that mintage of 5,500 is going to compare awfully well with just about any coin of any type as a good deal. The matte-finish 1998 may even be underpriced but compared to an 1882, everything pales. Well, almost everything as there are any number of Seated Liberty half dollar dates from the 1870s and 1880s that are very similar in mintage and in price.

If you look at the prices today, the 1882 starts at $290 in G-4. In XF-40 it is $850, and a Prf-65 is just $2,500.

Pick any grade and you still have to admit that the price is awfully cheap for a coin with a mintage of just 5,500. Of course, that is because there is limited demand. Even if the survival rate is higher than normal, the expectation has to be that if you were to seriously go out and look to buy an 1882 half dollar, you would have a much tougher time finding one that the current prices would indicate. If a dealer happened to have one gathering dust in a corner for a few years you might buy it for current prices, but otherwise, the dealer will know this coin is a lot tougher than you would believe based on its price. The dealer would also have to consider just how many years and how much money they would spend to replace the one they sold you.

Overall, the 1882 is not just a good but a great value. Of course, you have to find one and none will be promoted as the 1882 is one coin you are not going to find in any quantity, which makes it so desirable.

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