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Increased Silver Value Hurt 'O' Quarter Mintage
By Paul M. Green

Buried away in Seated Liberty coins of all denominations there are some excellent coins that are being overlooked. One of those coins is almost certainly the 1852-O quarter.

The 1852-O quarter is not a great rarity, although it is almost certainly tougher than many would expect. It is also a very interesting story as it tends to reflect what were difficult times at that mint. In New Orleans, times were particularly difficult.

When gold was discovered in California, it was good for those who discovered the gold and good for the potential growth of the state, but it turned out to be bad for the traditional gold-to-silver ratio. That was bad for silver coins - they were suddenly too valuable. In fact, it cost more than their face value to make a silver coin and that was putting the mints between a rock and a hard place. If the mints produced coins, they would lose money and that was not a good outcome. Of course, the public had begun hoarding silver coins, causing a national coin shortage. So, if the mints didn't make coins, they could be accused of not doing anything to resolve the crisis and that was not good either.

While Congress waited to get up the courage to do what was needed, the mints dealt with the problem as best they could. This appears to have been a compromise of sorts with sometimes smaller than normal mintages.

That seems to be what we have in the case of the 1852-O Seated Liberty quarter. The mintage of the 1852-O is placed at 96,000. This was just a little higher than the 88,000 mintage 1851-O, which suggests that the same thing was done in 1851. Back in 1850 when the crisis was just starting, the New Orleans quarter mintage had been 412,000.

The relatively low mintage of the 1852-O may actually be only part of the story. Despite having a slightly higher mintage, the 1852-O is actually more expensive than the 1851-O. The difference is small, with the 1852-O at $195 in G-4 while the 1851-O is $185. The gap widens in upper grades where the 1852-O is $8,000 in MS-60 and the 1851-O is at $4,000.

We know that there was rarely strong saving of New Orleans issues at the time they were first issued, but the totals of the 1852-O go well beyond that. The probability is that the 1852-O was melted. We cannot prove that and if we could, the numbers would be uncertain. However, the simple lack of coins suggests that something unusual had to have happened. We suspect melting in the case of other silver coins from the period as it was actually natural once new weights were approved in 1853. Assuming it happened, the melting makes the 1852-O, which was already a good coin, that much better.


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