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Collecting Date Sets of Liberty Seated Coinage
Part 2: Quarters through Half Dimes
By Dennis Hengeveld

The seated quarter dollars had their production starting a year earlier in 1838. The series was just like the other seated series, except for the half dime and dollar, struck until 1891, when it was finally replaced a year later by a new design, made by Charles Barber. The design is not much different than the half dollar; the most notable difference is the denomination and size, as can be expected.

In my opinion, this series is the most difficult of the seated series to complete by date only. The long run of dates (continuously from 1838 to the end of the series in 1891) is not the main criteria for this; it’s the fact that many Philadelphia dates, especially the 1880’s dates, are very scarce in any grade. In Mint state, most coins including branch Mint issues, are available although earlier dates can be very scarce or (virtually unknown) in full Mint state; this especially the case for the branch Mint issues.

These branch Mint coins were struck at the same Mints as the Half Dollars, the San Francisco, New Orleans and Carson City Mints. As is the case with the other seated coinage series, branch Mint coins normally command a premium over a Philadelphia Mint issues, although again this is not the case.

As I said before, the series started in 1838, replacing the capped bust design in production since 1815. The first two dates were only struck at the Philadelphia Mint. These issues are common in grades up to EF-40, but command a nice premium and get scarcer in higher grades.

In gem grades, a coin is very rare and a trophy coin to most collectors. the design of these first two years is of the no drapery, type 1 design. this was changed in 1840 when drapery was added to the elbow of liberty.

Philadelphia Mint coins only exist as type 2 (with drapery). The New Orleans Mint first struck quarter dollars in 1840. Because the correct, with drapery dies were not received at the beginning of the year, production started using the old type 1 obverse design. During the year, the obverse die was replaced with the new obverse, thus creating two separate varieties for the 1840-O issue. The type 1 had a Mintage of 382,200 coins and the type 2 output for the year was 43,000 coins. Both command a premium over a common type coin of more than 100% and thus are not really interesting to date only collectors.
From 1841 to 1844, both Philadelphia and New Orleans Mint struck seated quarters for general circulation. To most collectors, the choice will be a nicely struck Philadelphia issue. Although these coins are less expensive than their New Orleans brothers, the mintages are lower. This can be expected, as many were saved by both collectors and hoarders. For the more adventurous collector, the New Orleans issues are interesting to seek for a premium, well struck example. Especially the first date of this group, 1841-O is suitable for this purpose. It has the highest Mintage differences between both Mints (New Orleans struck 452,000 coins in comparison to the 120,000 struck in Philadelphia) and the prices reflect this in all grades.

The 1845 and 1846 dates were only struck at the Philadelphia Mint and both are relatively common and affordable in all grades. New Orleans resumed quarter dollar production in 1847 with a total output of 368,000 pieces; especially in high grade, it is much scarcer than its Philadelphia counterpart. 1848 resulted in a Philadelphia only year and from 1848 to 1860, the New Orleans Mint continuously struck quarter dollars. Of these dates, the 1854-O (with Arrows at the date to denote to weight change from 6.68 grams to 6.22 grams the previous year, when this was noted by both rays around the eagle and arrows at the date as was the case with the Seated Half Dollars) would be the best option in all grades with some premium but not that much.

As is the case with the Seated Half Dollars, in 1855 the San Francisco Mint struck Silver Quarters for the first time in its short existence. From that date until the late 1860s, the date only collector can choose from the two Mints. Most dates have low mintages, although most coins are much more available than expected. With the civil war going on, silver coins were being hoarded by just about anyone and all silver coins quickly disappeared from circulation. In 1870, the Carson City Mint was opened and the first 8,340 quarters were struck at the Carson City Mint during the year. The low mintage created a classic rarity to collectors with Mint State pieces (virtually) unknown.

In 1866, another design change occurred on all reverses of the higher denominations (quarter to dollar) denominations. To project the faith the reunited country had in God, the motto “In God We Trust” was placed on a scroll above the eagle. This motto continues to be on all United States coins since then, at least more or less as there are some exceptions. Patterns were created for these denominations during the previous years in several metals, all very rare but very collectable.

The series of patterns starts in 1861 with J- 284, $10 gold piece not too interesting for this article (but very historic in its own way), using the motto “God Our Trust” which was at first proposed. The first seated coinage with a motto related to God comes in 1862, when pattern Half Dollars in both silver and copper were made during the year. Both used the motto “God Our Trust”, with the first type (J-293 in silver and J-294 in copper) displaying it on scroll, and the second type (J-295 in silver and J-296 in copper) displaying the same motto without the scroll. This type was also struck in the then semiprecious metal aluminum, probably for the few collectors of the day.

The same can be said for the first patterns of 1863. But the now familiar with the public motto, “In God We Trust,” was used for the first time on J- 342 in silver and J-389 in copper pattern half dollars. This type was also struck in the then semi-precious metal aluminum, probably for the few collectors of the day. The “In God We Trust” motto was also used on a silver dollar pattern, also struck in three metals (J-345 to J-346).

Quarter dollar patterns with the motto were first struck in 1864 (J-386 to J-389, with the latter being struck in another metal, this time Nickel) as were again Half Dollar and Silver Dollar patterns. The same scenario continued in 1865, with especially the silver pieces being popular. The reason is that these pieces are the true transitional pieces (pieces with a new type first used for official coinage a year later), when the motto was finally introduced on the seated and other coinage in 1866.

Studying these different patterns is a very interesting field of study which I will not cover in depth in this article. For technical information, see the Judd and Pollock texts, both listed in the resources. The Judd book was recently revised with new updated prices, while the Pollock book is currently out of print and hard to find. However, both are well worth their money and in the case of the Pollock text, a must-have for the collector interested in these coins. For a more historic background on these truly fascinating pieces of US numismatics, I would recommend the Taxay book, also listed in the resources listing.

The first relatively affordable Carson City quarter dollar comes with the 1875-CC, at the time, the weight had again been changed from 6.22 to 6.25 grams. Again, this was noted to the public by arrows at the date in 1873 and 1874 as was the case with the half dollar. The coins slowly started to be seen in general commerce, although it did take until April 20, 1876 when silver traded again at par with paper money. This had not been the case since 1862, when it took more paper money than a given amount to buy the exact same amount in silver coins. Although more common than preceding Carson City issues, this coin still commands a strong premium in all grades.

The premium gets smaller with the next date, 1876-CC, and together with two Carson City issues that followed, ended this period the most affordable and the best choice for the collector who wants to include a seated quarter dollar in his collection minted at the Carson City Mint. As is the case with the half dollars, quarter dollar production stopped by the end of 1878 and was never resumed at the Carson City Mint.

The same scenario that could be seen with half dollars is the case with quarter dollars. The exception here is that the San Francisco Mint struck quarter dollars in 1888. This date, with an incredible high mintage for the era of 1,216,000 pieces, is commonly available in all grades and much cheaper than Philadelphia coins of the era, which although are easy to be find, will set you back a good amount of money for the 1880’s coins.

The 1890 date has the largest mintage since 1878, with a total output of 80,590 pieces, including 590 proofs. The last year of the series, 1891, saw the return of a well known branch Mints, the New Orleans Mint (re-opened in 1879, although it did not strike any quarter dollars until 1891). Production there was limited to just 6,800 pieces commanding a good premium over a Philadelphia issue (3,920,000 pieces struck for circulation) and San Francisco issue (2,216,000 pieces struck during the year) which are both very affordable and easy to find in any grade up to Gem Mint State.

Although the series is long, with many scarce and hard to find issues, this is a series which is certainly possible to complete. Take your time building such a large 19th century set (with a complete date/mint mark set being even harder) and pick out coins you really like. As a notice, and this can be said for any series, seated or not, when you don’t immediately fell in love with a certain coin, think by yourself if you could appreciate this coin the way it is. If not, pass on it and keep searching.

Collecting Seated Dimes by date only

The Seated Dimes series is the lowest denomination of the Seated type that was minted during the whole lifetime of the design. The Seated Dime or 10 cent piece was first minted in 1837. It was minted continuously in all the years until 1891, when this design too was replaced with the more modern Barber design as were the quarter and half dollar series.

As said, the production of the new dimes started in 1837. The type 1 design, only struck the same year at the Philadelphia Mint and for a short period in 1838 at the recently opened New Orleans Mint, featured a design which was the closest to the original design by Thomas Sully. The design featured no obverse stars, with the Seated Liberty Design simple but beautiful like it was meant to be. This same design was also used in the first year for half dimes.

In the first year, the Philadelphia Mint struck a total of 682,500. Many were saved and finding a nice example should not be too hard. In 1838, when production of the larger denominations was started, thirteen obverse stars were added to the design. Except for a small design change in 1840 (with drapery added to Liberty’s elbow) and arrows at the date from 1853-1855, the design essentially stayed the same until 1860.

The New Orleans issues of these coins are not as rare as is the case with the larger denominations. Production was large during the years, giving the date only collector several different branch mint issues too choose from without paying a large premium. It must be noted however, that many New Orleans issues are weakly struck (a general problem with New Orleans coins) and in many cases, the Philadelphia coins come much nicer.

For the date only collector, the preference would be a nice fully struck Philadelphia coin when nothing is available. In the 1838-1860 period, there are some keydates, even for the date only collector. The first coin commanding a premium over common dates of the era is the 1840, when no Dimes were minted at the New Orleans Mint. Although it brings a premium and will cost more than other Dimes of the 1840’s, the first “stopper” (more or less) is 1844.

Again, there were no dimes minted in New Orleans that year and production at the Philadelphia Mint was only 72,500, the lowest mintage of any dime since 1811. The coins are scarce in all grades, although they can be found with some searching and a lower AU piece (50 or 53) will set you back about $2,500.

Seated dime production shortly resumed at the New Orleans Mint in 1845 but was stopped and not resumed until the end of the decade in 1849. In these three years, production at the Philadelphia Mint started in 1846 with a total output of only 31,300 pieces (the lowest since the classic rarity of 1804) creating a scarce coin which is very rare in any Mint State grade and unknown in Gem. Both 1847 and 1848 dates are scarce but should not be too hard to find.

Other dates until the Arrows-at-date design are all available, with the New Orleans production staying under 510,000 pieces in these years. The with-arrows design was minted in Philadelphia in 1853-1855 and, in New Orleans, in 1854 and 1855. All issues are generally available, with the 1853-O being the scarcest of the set. Others are easily available and for the date-only collector including an issue of both Mints would be a great display of the type.

The San Francisco Mint started producing dimes in 1856, with a total output of 70,000 pieces. Most if not all immediately went into circulation and the issue is opt to be hard to find in all grades, harder in AU and even more so in MS. This certainly is not a date-only collector would likely include in this collection, but if you have some extra cash to spend, why not? It is your set you are working on, and the fun of collecting is that you choose what to include in it.

San Francisco, California lies in an area which was already inhabited by Indians at least 15,000 years before any Europeans arrived in the new world. When the first Europeans visited California with its foggy days and strange (at least to European colonists) geography, it was believed that California actually was an island some distance from the main land. On early maps of California, it is indeed shown as an island, with several small islands in the water between California and main land. These islands were based on myths and nothing else, but were subsequently included in these maps.

From 1500 to the mid 19th century European activity on the western coast was very limited. In fact, the only Europeans who visited were explorers who documented parts of the country and claimed it to the flag they were sailing under. One of these voyages included that of Francisco de Ulloa. In 1510, a novel based on this voyage where the character explores an island is published for the first time.

The island is called “California” and this is the earliest known use of that name.

The Spanish had a long history of influence in the new world, including California. However, not many people decided to move to California in the late 18th century, as most of the activities on the continent were near the eastern coast. The current state of California, together with Mexico and other parts in South-America were part of the Spanish Colonies, with its major activities in South-America, were silver mines proved to be a welcome income to the Spanish government.

The area of San Francisco was claimed by the Spanish in 1769. A mere six years later in 1775, a Spanish mission set out for California to keep it in Spanish hands. This mission, called Mission San Francisco de Asís, was established with a small settlement and a military fort. In the early 19th century, San Francisco’s population grew, although only in very small increments as there still was no interest in the area except for some Russian colonists. Eventually, these Russians had colonized almost all of an area near the western coast of North America, reaching from Alaska all the way down to Southern California.

In 1821, Mexico became independent from Spain. With Mexico now being a relative small country in the early 19th century, the country was much greater and included California, Texas, and other parts of the current Southern States. During the American-Mexican war of 1846-1848, American settlers (believed to be no more than 500 Americans who lived close to the coast in 1846) fought for their independency from Mexico.

California was ceded to the United States on February 2, 1848 following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 17 months after these American settlers declared California independent from Mexico and starting the war. This was done by raising a primitive flag, displaying a Grizzly Bear next to a Large Star in a dark red color on a white background and the words “California Republic,” directly under these symbols over the city of Sanoma. However, California was, after it was ceded to the United States by Mexico not considered to be a full and equal state until the so-called compromise of 1850.

I am of the opinion that this early history of the American Continent, more or less fully related to United States history, must not be forgotten, as they give a very interesting view of the United States and how its geography changed over the years through wars, peace treaties, and other circumstances which had many impacts on everyday life of the Americans.

These Americans can truly be considered as the builders of the western states during the 19th century. After the San Francisco Mint started to strike dimes in 1856, the other dates of the 1850s up to 1860 are generally available and it should not be too hard to find a nice and well struck example for your date-only set. Much was to change in 1860, when the design of the dime was completely revised.

The legend was moved to the obverse and the reverse was replaced with a large wreath. The first decade of the design, the 1860s will most likely include more San Francisco dates than Philadelphia coins. The output of the Philadelphia coins was very low during the civil war and a few years afterwards. Because the impact of the civil war was much smaller in the west of the country, production of dimes stayed relatively stable at the San Francisco Mint.

The Carson City Mint started to strike dimes a year after opening, in 1871. As is the case with the other denominations, the first few years are not really to be considered for date-only collectors because of the rarity and price of these issues compared with other Mints. The first affordable issue comes in 1875. In these few years between, arrows were again placed at the date in 1873 and 1874 as was the case with the large denominations. This was also done by the Mint Act of February 12, 1873, which also discontinued both Silver Dollars and Half Dimes. The Carson City coins are virtually unobtainable in anything higher than very fine, although San Francisco issues will cost about as much as the Philadelphia with-arrows issues. As has been said before, for the date only collector a good option would be to have one Philadelphia issue and the other date from the San Francisco Mint.

As with all other Seated Series, production at the Carson City Mint stopped in 1878 and was never resumed. The trio of Philadelphia coins struck in the years that followed (1879-1881) are very scarce, and, with no dimes minted at the San Francisco Mint between 1877 and 1884, there is not much to choose from. Although mintages were low during these years (1879: 14,000 for circulation +1,100 proofs – 1880: 36,000 for circulation + 1,355 proofs – 1881: 24,000 for circulation + 975 proofs) not much were put into circulation with enough coins being out there and used in commerce and many were saved for later generations to enjoy.

San Francisco production of dimes was resumed in 1884. The 1885-S is the scarcest of the later San Francisco dates with a mintage of 43,690. The 1885 from Philadelphia is much more common so the date itself is not much of a problem. Until the end of the series, this stays the same. The last option I opt to include is the 1891-O, which is the first New Orleans Dime to be struck in 31 years. This coin is slightly scarcer than its Philadelphia counterpart but does not bring much more and is a good way of saying goodbye to a long lived series and one of the workhorses of 19th century expanding America.

Collecting Seated Half Dimes by date only

The lowest denomination of the Seated type is the silver 5-cent piece, or half dime. Like the dimes, this denomination was first minted in 1837 with the original design by Christian Gobrecht displaying no obverse stars and a very nice small letter reverse. The denomination shows many similarities to its larger brother, both in design as in mintages.

Unlike the dimes, this denomination was not struck through 1891. When it comes to the end of these small but fascinating series, there are more similarities with the largest seated design type, the silver dollar previously discussed. As was the case with the Silver Dollar, this denomination was discontinued as per the Mint Act of February 12, 1873 and never to be seen again in United States commerce. The 5 cent piece was replaced with a larger, nickel coin, in modern times known as the shield nickel.

The nickel, as they are now called (this was not always the case. In fact, prior to the introduction of the 5 cent nickel piece, the Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents were called “Nicks” or “Nickels” because they largely consisted of Nickel until 1863 when that too was replaced with a bronze composition), has proven to be a worthwhile coin in everyday commerce and is still popular up to this day.

Like I’ve previously mentioned, the series started in 1837 featuring the no-stars type (type 1). This type is very popular with type set collectors and thus commands a premium, although the coin itself is not rare. The lonesome Philadelphia date of this type comes in two date sizes, designated as large and small date. It is believed that of the total mintage, 1,405,000 struck for circulation and a handful proofs for collectors, approximately 65-80% is of the large date type (the exact number is unknown), although there is not much of a price difference in today’s market. Personally, I’ve experienced that this date is quite hard to find with premium surfaces, and although it might be a common date this might require some searching to find a satisfactory example of this date.

In 1838, the New Orleans Mint began to strike half dimes, all of the no-stars type. The issue is a classic rarity and almost impossible to find in AU and MS grades. For that reason, the date only collector will most likely settle for a Philadelphia Mint coin, which now features 13 Obverse stars (type 2). This is a common issue which is easy to find in all grades.

The New Orleans Mint changed to the withstars type in 1839 and struck this type in that year and a few months in 1840. The 1839-O has a similar Mintage of about 1,000,000 pieces but circulated more extensively and is much scarcer in high grades. Production at both Philadelphia and New Orleans Mints was divided into two separate types in 1840. The old type coin had mintages of 1,034,000 and 695,000 respectively at the Philadelphia and New Orleans Mints. The new type introduced that year had much smaller mintages 310,085 in Philadelphia and 240,000 half dimes in New Orleans.

This new type (type 3) featured a modified design, which was changed by Robert Ball Hughes, an Anglo-American Sculptor. This was done with all seated denominations, and featured a lower relief than previously, refining of several key-features of the design (most notable the rock and shield) and adding drapery to Liberty’s right elbow.

The three early New Orleans issues of this modified design, 1840-O, 1841-O, 1842-O and 1844-O all had much smaller mintages than the coins struck during these years. Although not many collectors attempt a complete date/mintmark set of the seated half dime series, prices for New Orleans issues are relatively low to their mintage and overall availability. For the date-only collector, this will leave open more coins to choose from. It must be noted, however, that the New Orleans issues of this period often come weakly struck at several areas, this being more the rule than the exception. When it comes to overall eye-appeal, the date-only collector will most likely settle for Philadelphia coins which come most of the time sharply struck, although this is not always the case and some cherry picking for full detail coins has to been done there.

The 1840’s were the years when westward expansion became larger than ever before but still relatively small in comparison with the next decade, after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, California on January 24, 1848. When holding a coin from this decade, especially in circulated condition, the collector can just wonder if that coin was part of a group of emigrants (as California was still Mexican Territory in the early 1840’s) who traveled to California that decade, leaving almost everything they had behind in the eastern states were they originated from.

The half dimes of this important decade in United States history are almost all relatively available in grades up to MS-64 and even higher. There is, however, the exception here again; 1846 saw no half dimes produced in New Orleans, and production at the Philadelphia Mint was just limited to 27,000 pieces, the lowest since 1802, the “collectible” key date of the denomination (with only the 1870-S, being unique surpassing it).

Most of the known survivors, believed to be less than 250 pieces, are in low grades up to fine. Very fine examples are very scarce, extremely fine is rare, and everything higher is very rare (AU examples) to extremely rare (uncirculated pieces, which are believed to be less than 10 true uncirculated examples, not counting several proofs known, being 5 to 7) in comparison to the mintage.

When collecting the seated series by date only, the 1846 half dime is one of the true key-dates. No half dimes were struck in New Orleans that year, leaving the date-only collector not much choice. Delicate searching has to be done before finding an example with a good strike and no problems. However, when it is done the coin is a worthwhile addition to any collection and one to be proud of.

The New Orleans Mint started to strike half dimes again in 1848 and continued to do so until the last full year of coinage, 1860. Most of these dates are scarcer than their Philadelphia counterparts, although the premium for most issues is low, leaving an interesting opportunity for the date-only collector, again. Examples could be any of the type 4 dates, which featured also arrowheads next to the date on this denomination, starting in 1853 and continued in both 1854 and 1855, after which the old type was resumed again. The reason to do so was the silver prices and hoarding thereof previously discussed in this article.

The type 4a seated half dime as I personally call it (although the design was the same as was Minted from 1840 trough a few months of 1853, the weight was changed and thus creating a new type in my view) was Minted for the rest of this decade. All issues are relatively easy available (the San Francisco Mint did not started half dime production until 1863), both from the Philadelphia as the New Orleans Mint (although the latter are relatively scarcer each year) but striking quality still varies a lot.

The last half dime of the New Orleans Mint was the 1860-O. With a mintage of 1,060,000 pieces, which actually is more than the Philadelphia issue (which consisted of 799,000 coins Minted), the coin is common in all grades. This coin is both notable being the last year of half dime production in New Orleans, but also featured a complete revised design done by Thomas Longacre. The obverse stars were removed from the coin and the Legend “United States Of America” was moved to the obverse.

The reverse design was completely different, now featuring a large wreath which featured oak, maple, wheat and corn elements and a smaller half dime, the same which was done to it’s larger sister the dime.

As was the case with the other silver denominations following the Civil War, the half dime too was hoarded soon after the War began. From the 1863-1867, production at the Philadelphia Mint was very low, especially so in the last three years of the period because of the large amount of silver now flooding everyday commerce after peace had returned again in 1865. To prevent that Proofs for collectors became instant rarities, the Mint decided to strike a limited production of circulation strikes.

All these circulation issues are rare as their mintages will suggest, although there won’t be much difference in pricing between a fine and lower Mint State coin, because these issues were scarcely used and most stayed in AU or Mint State condition.

Luckily enough for the date only collector, there was the San Francisco Mint. The western Mint started to strike half dimes in 1863 and did so through the end of the series. The mintages were larger there than those of the Philadelphia Mint (this being true of all coinage of the period), although still relatively small in the context of the half dime series. These issues circulated more or less in rural areas across the western states, and it should not be too difficult to find a date in the condition of your choice.

However, one must not forget the option to include one of the low mintage Philadelphia dates of the 1860’s in your collection (and this can be said for any of the Seated series’). The coins and their mintages are directly linked to the events of the Civil War and there direct aftermath. It again is an issue to think about when collecting by date only, one of many as you have found out so far.

Mintages at both Mints increased again in the late 1860s and early 1870s when freshly minted small change was again needed in everyday commerce by the people, who were hoping they could now rebuild their country again and memorialize the many people who died in that long and bloody war.

There is, however, one exception again, being the 1870-S (and not for the first time). No half dimes were reportedly struck in San Francisco that year, but more than 100 years after its mintage, one turned up at an ANA convention in a most unusual place: a dealer’s jukebox. It just shows what can be found when you look hard enough, but of course you must be lucky.

The 1872-S shows two different types in the mintmark placement; within the bow of the wreath or beneath it. This is an interesting difference, but to the date only collector this will not be of much significance, especially when including a Philadelphia coin in your date-only collection.

The seated half dime series ended just like the dollar after the Mint Act of February 12, 1873. This ended a romantic denomination, first minted in 1792 as the first federal silver coin of the new United States and featuring several interesting design changes along the way, along with rare, unique and historic issues as is the case with all of the seated series.

Conclusion

My main purpose of this article was to show collectors one of the many possibilities when collecting any of the seated series. It turned out to be a bit more difficult than I expected when I started writing it, as many historic events had their influence on all American coinage of the discussed periods in the 19th century, the era these coins circulated throughout the United States.

To illustrate these certain periods in American History, every denomination includes some historic information on subjects not directly numismatic. I have done this to give the reader better insight what people and which events had influence of the coinage of the United States.

However, I hope that it has not become a boring story with nothing but facts in it but that it will actually prove to be a nice starting point to anyone who is interested in one of the seated series, but which is halted by the size and cost of these sets. Most of these date only sets are more or less easy possible to complete in some period of time and can be expanded to include more Mint issues and be build up to a complete date/mintmark and variety set or even more.

All of this leads to the conclusion that if the right choices are made when collecting seated coinage by date only, it can be fun and very rewarding, with a complete set of any series being a major accomplishment. As usual, search for the best grade you can afford, but remember that the grade on the holder is only an indication of the actually coin. Strike, color and luster needs to be seen by yourself to judge if that coin is worthwhile to add to your collection.

 



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