People spend a lot of time trying to find sleepers. But the 1858-S is better than that: it is also an historic and extremely tough coin. The good news is that, at least in some grades, it is available at reasonable prices, reflecting a lack of demand and perhaps a lack of knowledge of just how good this date is.
To understand the historic importance of the 1858-S, we need to go back to San Francisco in 1858. There was a mint in San Francisco that had been open for coin production since 1854; however, few would have wanted to call it a mint. It was an absolutely miserable place to work. It was crowded, it was loud, it had poor ventilation so the acid fumes went everywhere. It was smaller than the frontier facilities at Dahlonega and Charlotte, yet it was supposed to make both gold and silver coins.
The mint was so small that there had to be priorities, and small silver coins like the Seated Liberty dime was not among them. The place produced coins starting in 1854 but did not produce a single dime until 1856, when it managed a mintage of 70,000. Then, in 1857, it returned to form and produced no additional dimes.
The following year, San Francisco would produce another 60,000 dimes. But then, starting in 1860, the numbers would increase. The historic 1856-S had some slight saving but the 1858-S and 1859-S were different matters. They had basically no saving, which is not all that surprising.
At the time, there were not many coin collectors, and what collectors there were primarily concentrated on lower denominations. In addition, these coin collectors were located 3,000 miles away from San Francisco, usually around Philadelphia. There was essentially no coin collecting in San Francisco, so there was no one to save the 1858-S.
The situation would remain unchanged for decades. The average 1858-S would reach circulation and then get abused. It was, after all, a rough and somewhat wild environment.
That leaves us today with a coin with a 60,000 mintage that was released into the middle of a gold rush. Now that by definition is a simply great coin. But you can get that 1858-S for a current price of $150 in VG-8. Its story alone is worth more than that, so we can consider it a great value.
While the 1858-S is still palatable at $2,250 in AU-50, it becomes much tougher in Mint State grades. Its current price listings are $15,750 in MS-63 and $25,500 in MS-65.
The Numismatic Guaranty Company has graded just 14 examples of the 1858-S. Of those 14, only an MS-63 and an MS-65 were called Mint State.
At the Professional Coin Grading Service, it has been seen 23 times, and in this case there were two examples in MS-62 and another in MS-66.
That makes a combined total of just five Mint State examples of the 1858-S seen by the two major grading services. Probably as important is the fact that the two services have seen just 37 examples in all grades combined. There may be a few more, but it’s also very possible that some of these coins have been submitted more than once.
It does not take very advanced addition to think that the number of collectors of Seated Liberty dimes, while low, might still be very close to the number of known examples of the 1858-S. It is certainly not out of the question that at some point there will be additional collectors of Seated Liberty dimes – and the question then becomes, where are they going to find an 1858-S?
Certainly it is likely to go up in price, although we should not expect large price increases as the interest in Seated Liberty dimes is not going to increase dramatically. That said, the 1858-S is a great value today and a coin from a classic period in history that should make it an interesting purchase for almost any collector.