Collecting Liberty Seated Dollars
This article was written by a client of mine who is a Liberty Seated Dollar Specialist. He has been collecting LSD’s for many years. Liberty Seated Dollars are one of my favorite series, and I wanted to post this wonderful article for all my clients to enjoy!
Studying and trading these historic coins continues to be a refreshing and rewarding hobby. Finding and acquiring examples with natural toning and premium quality surfaces is both challenging and gratifying. The series rarity is widely recognized throughout the numismatic community. PCGS describes a Liberty Seated Dollar (LSD) set of circulation strikes as; “one of the most challenging of all 19th century silver sets. The coins are big and heavy, leading to lots of bagmarks on most surviving mint state examples. In addition, rare dates abound, including the ultra-rare 1870-S, the tough Carson City issues, the rare dates in the early 1850s-the list could continue. A complete set? A great joy and an even greater challenge!” A complete LSD set consists of forty-three coins excluding the 1870-S which is a manageable collecting objective for many collectors.
Developing my grading skills and the confidence to accurately grade and identify coins that are premium quality for the grade is both challenging and empowering. I enjoy studying the different characteristics from the minting process. Each date and mint has unique characteristics such as strike, surface quality, and toning patterns. Armed with this knowledge one can begin to accurately determine a coin’s market value.
The United States mint began producing the Liberty Seated dollar series only three years after the 1837 financial crisis. This crisis triggered a prolonged economic depression that lasted until the mid-1840’s. During the 1840’s, a silver dollar had considerable value, for example, a routine doctor’s visit would typically cost about two dollars.
The weight of Liberty Seated dollars was unaffected by The Coinage Act of 1853. However, the Act did reduce the silver weight of subsidiary half dime through half dollar coins by 6.9%. The new half dollar weighed 192 grains and contained 90% pure silver. This meant that two half dollars contained 345.6 grains or 0.72 troy ounces of pure silver. Since a Liberty Seated dollar contained 0.77344 troy ounces of pure silver, businesses could make easy profits by melting down the dollar coins, and exporting the resulting bullion abroad. The result was a large number of silver dollars minted in the 1840’s and early 1850’s being melted and lost to commerce and eventually, collectors. The Comstock Lode was made public in 1859; it was the first major discovery of silver ore in the United States. The silver mined from the Comstock Lode was used to produce many of our country’s silver coins.
In 1861 our nation burst into a war between the states known as the Civil War. This brutal war lasted until 1865, the same year President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. This bloody war led to the death of over 600,000 soldiers and destroyed much of the South's infrastructure. Despite the war, the Philadelphia mint produced 193,440 Liberty Seated dollars during the war years. The coins struck during the Civil War have always been very popular and they continue to elicit strong collector demand.
Perhaps motivated by the brutality of the Civil War, a Pennsylvania minister asked the Secretary of the Treasury to consider the minting of coins that would pay tribute to God. The Director of the Mint, James Pollock, chose the words “In God We Trust,” and the motto first appeared on the two-cent piece in 1864. This motto was added on the ribbon or scroll above the eagle on the reverse of all Liberty Seated dollars beginning in 1866, with the exception of two proof examples dated 1866 with no motto.
The total reported production of all Liberty Seated dollar business strike is 6,487,747. The Philadelphia mint produced the vast majority minting 5,465,463 coins. In fact during 1871 and 1872, the Philadelphia mint struck a total of 2,179,300 coins.
Conversely in 1851 and 1852 they produced a meager total of only 2,400 coins. The rising price of silver resulted in dollar coins melt values that exceed their face value. Interestingly each of the three branch mints struck coins in only four years: the New Orleans mint in years 1846, 1850, 1859, and 1860; the San Francisco mint in years 1859, 1870, 1872, and 1873; and the Carson City mint in years 1870, 1871, 1872, and 1873.
During 1859 and 1860 the New Orleans mint coined 875,000 Liberty Seated dollars. These New Orleans pieces have by far the highest mint state survival rates of the series due to the 1962 through 1964 United States Treasury release. It is believed that one to three mint-sealed bags of one thousand uncirculated 1859-O and 1860-O dollars were found among the bags of Morgan and Peace silver dollars sold to the public during this period. The vast majority of these coins are heavily bag-marked Mint State specimens because they were moved around in bags for a century.
The 1870-S Seated dollar mintage is unknown; estimates range from 25 to 300 pieces. Today’s confirmed population is just eleven specimens, consequently its rarity and high price put this date beyond the reach of all but a small number of fortunate collectors. This leaves only the 1859-S and the 1872-S to choose from if one wishes to own a Seated dollar struck at the San Francisco mint.
The Carson City mint produced a total of only 18,584 Liberty Seated dollars during four years of production. The 1870-CC accounts for 63% of the total mintage. The remaining three dates are very rare and usually command strong premiums when offered for sale. In addition to their rarity, Carson City coins enjoy great popularity and demand due to mystic and allure of the Wild West.
The population reports published by PCGS, NGC, and CAC, all support a low Seated dollar survival rate. In general, these census reports are a good indication of rarity and survival rate. Unfortunately for many rare coins including Liberty Seated dollars, the surviving population is often inflated because the same coin has been submitted multiple times and the old inserts were not returned and removed from the census report.
Only a small fraction of all Seated dollars struck remain in existence today. High quality business strikes are especially rare since dollars coins were used in daily commerce predominantly west of the Mississippi. The silver dollar was appreciated in the south possibly because after the civil war confederate paper money was worthless, but a silver dollar was still good. Their large size and weight caused them to be easily damaged by normal circulation issues such as being dropped or being stored in bags with other coins. Large numbers were shipped overseas and melted for their silver value significantly reducing the population.
The small number that did survive faced an even greater obstacle. The long-time practice of cleaning coins is the major reason why survivors with original surfaces are extremely rare. Very few have survived with little or no wear and naturally toned pristine surfaces. Sadly, the cleaning and doctoring of coins still continues today.
Many people do not understand the importance of original surfaces and the harm done by tampering with coins. Regrettably some people choose to dip or enhance coins in efforts to get higher grades and realize higher prices. Natural toning of a coin occurs gradually, which then stabilizes the silver coin's original surface. Unfortunately, the loss of natural toning is a result of many types of cleaning. The longer a coin was in circulation the lower the probability of it surviving with original surfaces and without damage. It is a miracle that early dollar coins were carefully stored and retained their natural surfaces. Naturally toned Liberty Seated dollars are rare numismatic treasures that should be carefully preserved as part of our numismatic heritage.
I recommend the book on Liberty Seated dollars authored by Dick Osborn and Brian Cushing, it contains a large amount of new information and is an extremely valuable reference.
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