By Brishen Foley
Editor's Note: The following article has been reprinted from the E-Gobrecht Newsletter, Vol. 16, Issue 7, with the express permission of the Liberty Seated Collectors Club.
Here are some tips I think would be helpful to people that are contemplating starting a Liberty Seated dollar (LSD) set. They are not in any particular order and can all be equally important. One thing that goes without saying (even though I’m about to say it), join the LSCC! It is an incredible value and has been beneficial to me along the way. Hope these “Eleven Quick Tips” can help some newer collectors avoid some hard lessons and painful tuition.
1. Buy Coins with Original Surfaces
Most people start off buying the cheapest example they can find for each hole in the set. After assembling a handful of these examples you should be able to notice that while they may be straight graded, they certainly are not problem-free. Instead, they were deemed market acceptable. If the cheapest market acceptable coins are what floats your boat then more power to you. But make sure you do not pay a premium for them because you will have a tough time recovering any premium paid. For me, it is much more rewarding to pay more to find a problem-free example that is original and PQ. It may sound easy enough for those who are new to collecting Seated dollars but I can assure you that after years of building this set, it is tougher then you could ever imagine trying to locate PQ examples. I have spent countless hours searching for these rare treasures and with the help of a few great friends and dealers, I have managed a humble 41 of the 43 (minus the 1870s) I originally laid out as my goal. There is no way to get a precise number of surviving examples with original surfaces, but I lean heavily on the CAC population to get a rough idea of the number of original coins for each date. Another way to get an idea of how tough it is to find a nice original Seated dollar is to do a quick, simple search on eBay. I would guess nearly 90 percent of the dollars on eBay have been dipped, cleaned, damaged, or abused at some point in the past. That includes both raw and certified examples. If you are lucky enough to finally find a date you need that is strictly original and PQ… buy it!
2. Learn to Grade the Series Before You Buy
There is an endless amount of knowledge to learn about LSDs. It is fairly easy to find out the basics such as how many coins are in a full date and mintmark set, which year was a proof only issue, and which coins are considered to be a key date. So I won’t bore you with those basic details. Learning to grade is an important part of becoming an expert in the series. You can not rely solely on what the plastic says. There are many dates that suffer from poor strikes and learning how to grade them yourself is essential. I would also strongly suggest getting a grasp of the survival estimates and how rare each particular date is taking into account originality. There are many dates that are considered "common" (if there is such a thing in this series), but I’d bet some of these "common" dates will take years to find a fully original PQ specimen. Once you’ve mastered this, you’ll be able to make a quick decision if you come across a date on your want list.
3. Buy LSDs that are Slabbed
The market is flooded with counterfeit dollars from China. The best way to avoid buying a counterfeit is to purchase dollars that have already been authenticated by the top two grading services. Another benefit when buying certified coins is they are protected from future potential damage. These coins have managed to survive 150 years worth of wars, silver melting, natural disasters, the Great Depression, etc. The least we can do as owners is protect this large heavy silver coin from a rim bump from an accidental fall. Lastly, you’ll have a much easier time finding a buyer for a slabbed Liberty Seated dollar when it comes time to sell. Yes, we have all heard “Buy the Coin, Not the Holder,” however, when it comes time to sell, there is definitely a hierarchy and PCGS CAC approved coins are king followed by NCG CAC approved examples. Then comes a PCGS non CAC coin followed by NGC non CAC. I have bought and sold all of the above, and this has been my experience.
4. Send Your Coins to CAC for Approval
Whether you love them or hate them, CAC has proven itself in this market. There is absolutely no reason not to send your Seated dollars to CAC. The demand for CAC-approved coins is undeniable and is proven through the higher prices realized at auctions time and time again. I can not think of any other series that this approach is more profound. Seated dollars can sell for multiples of price guides’ listed value and in my opinion, they are worth every single penny and in many cases more. Failure to send your coins to CAC simply leaves money on the table when selling choice PQ dollars. Luckily, if you are a collector member of CAC, it means you only pay for coins they actually sticker. A fair deal if you ask me... whether you divest your Seated dollar set yourself or you leave it to your heirs. CAC will ensure the most money possible at the time of sale. Another benefit of handling CAC coins is you can learn a lot about grading and identifying coins with problems. JA is very tough on Liberty Seated dollars and his eye has taught me a lot.
5. Ensure You Are Not Buying a Mis-Identified Proof
Once you’ve narrowed down the field to just strictly original pieces, you’ll be faced with an additional challenge. While building a set of business strike dollars, you will inevitably come across a circulated proof that is identified as a business strike. Research on this topic was almost non-existent until Dick Osburn and Brian Cushing put in the time and effort required to study the dies and published their book "Liberty Seated Dollars, A Register of Die Varieties" in January 2018. This is a must-own for those building a set. This is the only way to identify your coins by OC variety. Some years seem to be plagued by this more than others (hint: 1862.)
6. Take Time to Choose a Grade Range that is Manageable to Your Budget
When I started collecting Liberty Seated dollars, I chose EF-45 as my target grade. I felt it was manageable and offered the best bang for my buck details-wise. I still believe this to be true, but realized quickly that an all EF-45 set of choice original dollars is almost an impossible task. The closest I’ve seen is the Old Chelsea Collection (which can be viewed through the PCGS registry). This set was actually the catalyst for the start of my own Seated dollar set. I can tell you what he has managed to do is absolutely amazing and probably can never be duplicated again. And any attempt to duplicate this feat would have to involve many years of waiting, searching, and a bottomless wallet. My set is falling short of my initial goal and now spans a wider grade range. I’ve found that the grade of the coin is less important than the originality of the coin. So do not get hung up on a single grade. I suggest you open your range up a bit to allow yourself a chance to actually complete this challenging series. I also suggest keeping the grade range as close as possible to avoid a coin looking too out of place.
7. Meeting Fellow Collectors is a Must!
I’ll let you in on a well-known secret... Most choice LSDs never appear on the open market. They sell amongst fellow collectors. I have met a lot of people since I started my set and a few of them have become some of my best friends, not just coin buddies but friendships beyond coins. We buy, sell and trade amongst each other and constantly look out for each other’s want lists. Simply put, I would not have the set I have today without them. This hobby is so much more rewarding when you have friends who are like-minded and who are looking out for each other. If possible, try to have multiple people to bounce things off of. This can help a newer collector identify coins that have problems that may be beyond his knowledge when starting a new collection.
8. Choose a Mentor Wisely
When attempting to put together an original set of business strikes, I highly advise you to gain a mentor who has knowledge of the series and who genuinely has your best interest at heart. Just because a person has knowledge of LSDs doesn’t make them a mentor. One must take the time to properly vet this individual... Ask around, you’d be surprised how small this Seated dollar world is. Any Seated dollar specialist will inevitably have a reputation. In this business, reputation is everything. Some guys have a reputation of being solid as an oak while others will do or say anything to make a buck. Ask the dealers off the record about a potential candidate and their answer should give you a decent feel for the situation. In this hobby, your word is everything. There are guys I’ve never met in person, but have done 5-figure coin deals with nothing more than a phone conversation. Literally, sending coins before payment and vise versa. That is the level of trust I have built with certain LSCC members. Sadly, this is not the case for everyone and this must be learned through experience and word of mouth. Everyone has their own level of trust they are willing to extend, but no matter the level you feel comfortable with, a good mentor is necessary.
9. The “Time to Buy” is When You See Her
Once you have found a choice PQ original example of a date you need and you feel comfortable with the price... it is time to buy! Even the slightest hesitation can turn into you waiting a decade or more before another premium example presents herself in your desired grade range. I have a want list open with several well respected, high integrity dealers and have gotten some incredible coins that way. When they call, you should be able to make a pass or play decision fairly quickly. That is the least you can do to show the dealer you appreciate having a shot at his material. That being said, I’d suggest only purchasing coins that are good enough to have in your set forever. This takes a tremendous amount of patience and willpower which I myself have fallen short of many times. Upgrading constantly can be, or shall I say is, an unnecessary cost in an already expensive series to collect. So try to avoid constant upgrading when possible.
10. Stay Focused
Attempting a Liberty Seated dollar set with this approach will test you in many ways. For one, you’ll have to find these rare gems. Once you’ve found them, you’ll have to have the financial means to complete the purchase. Once you’ve gotten through half the set you’ll find the coins you need are all extremely scarce, and months or even years can go by without finding a coin that is needed towards your set. This downtime can cause a collector to lose focus and spend his or her money elsewhere sometimes moving on to other series or worse another hobby. I would suggest trying to resist the urge although I am actually guilty of this myself and have admittedly started a Trade dollar collection to fill in the time in between Seated dollar purchases. I justify this to myself by the fact that in a second's notice, I am willing to sell off my Trade dollar set in order to purchase the right Seated dollar.
11. Take a Few Coins Around to Shows
Once you have a small group of Seated dollars in your possession, take a few representatives to a coin show and show them around. You may be surprised at some of the feedback. Ask them what they believe your coins are worth. This will give you a rough idea of how well you did with your purchases. Speaking to dealers that are knowledgeable in the series can be a great educational experience. Once you develop a relationship with these dealers, they will keep in touch as they locate nice examples. They can also look at coins in auctions for you and provide some great feedback from their first hand, in-person inspection of the auction lot. A relationship with a good group of dealers is important and needs to be maintained to get a crack at fresh material coming on to the market.