Sleepers come in all forms. Sometimes coins are not heavily collected, and as a result, are not priced at the same levels as others with a greater collector base. In other instances, a truly scarce coin in upper grades is hidden because its mintage suggests it is not that tough. The 1855 Seated Liberty dollar qualifies on both counts. Even though it is a better date, it is, as numismatic scholar Q. David Bowers suggested some time ago, “dramatically underrated” in Mint State.
Struck at a time when there was very little use of silver dollars, the 1855 Seated Liberty has a mintage of only 26,000. There are dates with even lower mintages, such as the 1851 at 1,300 and the 1852 at 1,100, which indicate extremely limited demand by the public for silver dollars. To this can be added the facts that only proofs were produced in 1858 (an estimated 800 of them) and that from 1848 to 1858, there was not a single year for which silver dollar mintages reached 100,000.
What was going on? There were gold dollars with much larger mintages that were produced at more facilities, which suggests the public was more willing to carry around a gold dollar. Silver dollars seemed to have been used for reserves, presents, or exports. Also, collectors of the day had limited interest in the denomination, which was a significant sum for many.
While there are certainly many silver dollar collectors today, there are not many Seated Liberty dollar collectors. Morgans, and to a lesser degree Peace dollars, can be promoted, as there are significant numbers of many different dates available and in top grades. By comparison, there were only two Seated Liberty dollars (1871 and 1872) with mintages of more than one million pieces.
As a result, you can buy nice Morgan or Peace dollars for prices well under $50 in MS-60 condition. For an MS-60 Seated Liberty dollar, prices run between $1,600-$1,900 for the most available dates, while many of the rest are over $3,000. They are very hard for dealers to keep in stock, and therefore, impossible to promote.
Even in G-4, the 1855 is expensive, currently listing for $1,000. However, that is still less than a number of other dates, including the very low-mintage 1851 and 1852 ($5,000 and $2,200, respectively), as well as the extremely tough 1873-CC ($7,000), 1871-CC ($2,200) and 1872-CC ($1,600). This means the 1855 barely makes the list of better Seated Liberty dollars in circulated grades.
Things get even more interesting in upper grades. The 1855 lists for $5,000 in AU-50, $9,000 in MS-60, $30,000 in MS-63, and $45,000 in Prf-65.
What do population reports tell us? Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has seen just 17 examples in MS-60 or better, with the highest being an MS-64. The Professional Coin Grading Service reports just 25 examples in MS-60 or better, with the highest being an MS-66.
Obviously, these totals can change. There is also the possibility that some coins have been graded more than once. That makes it difficult to draw conclusions beyond a very basic one, which is that the 1855 Seated Liberty dollar is an extremely difficult coin in MS-60 or better condition.
Since it receives so little attention from collectors and dealers, you should feel proud if you happen to be one of the lucky few who own an 1855 Seated Liberty dollar in MS-60 or better. You have a truly underrated coin! If instead you are on the hunt, and you find one offered at today’s prices, do not take the opportunity for granted – a nice 1855 is not a coin you will see often at any price.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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