Add a Seated
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
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
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
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