U.S. Coin Price Guide

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Add a Seated Liberty Dollar
By Mark Benvenuto

Many think of silver dollar collecting as Morgan and Peace dollars, pure and simple. It's easy to do, or at least to start. These two series are present at every coin show. Just about every dealer seems to have tray or two of them. Their highest mintage years were in the tens of millions, which probably qualifies some of them as common coins for perhaps the next 1,000 years.

Plus, the older silver dollars, meaning Trade dollars, Seated Liberty dollars, or Flowing Hair and Draped Bust dollars, always appear so expensive in comparison. But a look back from the Morgan dollars just into the Seated Liberty silver dollars can reveal to you that an example of Christian Gobrecht's design is not necessarily out of reach, even for a collector of modest means. There may just be a Seated Liberty dollar out there with your name on it.

To put the Seated Liberty dollar in the proper context, it is necessary to go back to a date well before 1840. A quick primer on U.S. silver dollars reveals that from those first 1,758 coins minted in 1794 until the apparent end of the denomination in 1803, there were no less than 43 major varieties listed.

Many collectors are aware that the silver dollar was suspended in 1804 because each of the coins had enough silver in them that it was profitable to export them, usually to some colonial land in the Caribbean, then melt them for the precious metal. Because of this, even common-date early silver dollars are no longer really that common. Because of the export problem, the denomination went into dormancy until the Gobrecht dollar was revealed in 1836.

Gobrecht dollars sport a flying eagle on the reverse and Gobrecht's name under the allegorical figure of Liberty on the obverse, but all the dates with this design are way off the charts when it comes to prices. These were minted from 1836-1839, but those numbers only even reached 1,000 for a single year.

The first Seated Liberty dollars entered circulation in 1840 with a mintage 61,005 pieces. That's not low, but it's definitely not high. In Mint State-60 one will cost around $4,000. In Good-4 it lists at $260.

By 1841, the Mint had managed to put out 173,000 Seated Liberty dollars, which sounds good until you compare that number to the total for any other silver denomination at about the same time. For example, Seated Liberty half dollars had already gone over 1 million coins.

While there are a few impressive years in the Seated Liberty dollar series that pre-date the Civil War, or touch right up against it, there is nothing that tops 1 million coins. For general population totals, it is actually not the main mint in Philadelphia that gets to claim first or even second place. Rather, the branch mint in New Orleans saw the two highest totals, with 515,000 attached to the 1860-O and 360,000 tagged to the 1859-O dollars.

Those two numbers are hefty enough that we need to at least take a look at some prices. After all, one is half way to the target of 1 million coins, and thus, hopefully, to a common date. Well, first things first, the 1860-O is listed in most price guides up to MS-65. In many price listings there is also a series of columns that deal with proofs, as a few proofs were made annually for collectors in those early years.

As you might expect, coins in upper mint state or proof are still going to be very expensive purchases. They are also the type of coins found at auctions.

But what about an MS-60 coin? How much does it cost to graze the mint-state zone without penetrating too deeply into it? The short answer: $2,200. This is the entrance fee to owning an 1860-O Seated Liberty dollar in mint state. Without a doubt, that is expensive.

So, with that price tag in mind, how affordable is this coin in some circulated but still respectable state? Well, if you drop to Extremely Fine-40, the price plummets to $465. That's still not pocket change, but it is much, much more affordable. And an EF still possesses a wealth of detail and eye appeal.

If that is still too rich for your blood, or too deep for your wallet, then $315 for a piece in Fine-12 might be a better bet. Yes, a coin in that grade has seen more wear, but a coin in F still has a significant amount of detail to it. It might be worth considering.

I just said that the 1860-O is the most common Seated Liberty dollar up to the beginning of the Civil War. Let's cut to the chase and find the single most common date and mintmark in the series. That date is significantly after the war, in 1872. The official total is 1,106,450 coins, which is definitely in the range we've been looking for, meaning 1 million coins or more.

The prior year, 1871, comes in a close second, with a 1,074,760 to its tally. There are no other dollars in this series that top out over 1 million. As a matter of fact, the 1860-O is the third highest date/mintmark combination in the series.

Well, we have the highest mintage dates. What then are the price tags associated with them? The answer to this one is: nearly the same as the 1860-O. Yes, whether you are looking for a piece in MS-60, or F, or Good, all the prices we have just looked at are similar for these two highest mintage dates.

At first blush, this appears to be a serious let down. It seems to doom a collector to a higher price when it comes to buying any of the Seated Liberty dollars. But let's see if this is a lemon that can be made into lemonade. Now that we know it will cost $410 for an EF, or $330 for the same in F, let's see what the lowest mintages are that can be had for the same price. In effect, we're taking a quick look for a sleeper - an undervalued coin.

Scanning the entire series from 1840-1873 brings to light three dates that all post prices that are similar to those tagged to the two most common dates. The 1841 has a mintage of 173,000 coins. The 1843 has a few less, with 165,100 to its tally. And the 1847 comes in at 140,750 coins overall. Yet, at least in EF and F, each of these coins costs no more than the much higher mintage 1871 and 1872.

So, are these three Seated Liberty dollars poised to rocket up in price when the time is right? Probably not. Since they are circulated grades, they may increase in value over time but not in some meteoric fashion.

Of course, if you can land one of this trio in MS-66, then you'll probably see a huge jump as prices rise. But again, it would cost you much, much more in the first place.

It does seem that the Seated Liberty dollar series has within it several dates that are available to the prudent, cost-conscious collector - the person who is willing to shop around a bit for a deal on a circulated but still attractive piece. It doesn't appear there are any in the mid or higher mint-state grades that qualify as still being quite cheap. It always requires a few hundred dollars to add a coin like this to your collection. But you are the best judge of whether or not it is worth it. A Seated Liberty dollar can be a tremendous addition to the Morgan and Peace dollars you already have.


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