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Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each, Part 28: Set of Liberty Seated Types

Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each, Part 28: Set of Liberty Seated Types

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #376

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
Most of the first 27 parts explain how sets of a single series of classic U.S. coins may be completed or nearly completed without spending as much as $500 on any one coin. Collecting Liberty Seated silver coins is a little more time consuming as each respective series tends to be long, and many of the issues are rare. While collecting most Liberty Seated series ‘by date’ without spending more than $500 per coin is moderately practical, it is best to build a type set before thinking about collecting an entire Liberty Seated series ‘by date’!

In each series of Liberty Seated coins, there are Great Rarities, including the unique 1870-S half dime, the unique 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ dime, the four or five surviving 1873-CC ‘No Arrows’ quarters, fewer than a half-dozen 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ half dollars, and the nine known 1870-S silver dollars. There are other expensive rarities, like 1878-S half dollars. Collecting type coins is much less costly than pursuing rarities.

There are Liberty Seated half dimes (1837-73), dimes (1837-91), quarters (1838-91), half dollars (1839-91) and silver dollars (1840-73). There are other design types that are sometimes loosely regarded as Liberty Seated coins.

Gobrecht dollars are dated 1836, 1838 and 1839. Although they are the work of the same artisan as Liberty Seated coins, Gobrecht dollars are really of a very different design and constitute a whole other phenomenon. A Gobrecht dollar does not fit well into a type set of Liberty Seated coins, though it would be an interesting complement to such a set.

Twenty Cent pieces were minted from 1875 to 1878. Although clearly inspired by Liberty Seated coins, in my view the design of these is different from the designs of Liberty Seated quarters or half dollars. If a Twenty Cent piece is to be included, a PCGS- or NGC-graded AU-55 or -53 1875-S Twenty Cent piece would be very likely to cost well under $500.

Gobrecht dollar - high end example

Oddly, some researchers think of Trade Dollars as Liberty Seated coins. Other than the point that a female personification of liberty is seated, the design of U.S. Trade Dollars bears little resemblance to Liberty Seated designs used between 1837 and 1840.

Not all types of Liberty Seated coins are easy to explain. Artistic differences may be recognized by collectors as they spend time studying the coins.
The distinction between a ‘No Drapery’ type and a ‘With Drapery’ type involves much more than the presence or absence of additional fabric in Miss Liberty’s gown near one of her elbows. Even so, the difference in her gown is readily noticeable and is thus useful for naming purposes. The other differences regarding ‘No Drapery’ and ‘With Drapery’ designs may well be too boring to explain in words, though they are visually apparent and curious.

Although Liberty Seated designs were formulated by Christian Gobrecht, other designers and engravers at the Philadelphia Mint modified the designs. So, there is more than one design type of each denomination (except silver dollars) before arrows were added.

In 1853, arrows were added near the ‘year’ (date) on half dimes, dimes, quarters and half dollars. There is an historically important reason, which is explained in an article about 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ half dollars.

Shortly after discoveries in 1848, the California Gold Rush became a blockbuster event. Massive quantities of gold were found. The mandated government value-ratio of gold to silver, however, remained the same.

The free market price of gold dropped, in terms of its purchasing power, though the government still maintained that 23.22 grains of gold was necessarily worth a silver dollar. As the mining of silver did not increase nearly as much, silver become relatively scarcer than it was before 1848 and the value of silver in terms of gold rose.

Gold $1 coin dated 1861From 1850 or so to 1852, 10 dimes or four quarters became worth more than a dollar’s worth of gold. Put differently, one silver dollar was worth more than a One Dollar gold coin, as were two half dollars.

Therefore, many U.S. citizens stopped spending silver coins. In a sense, they were then worth more than face value. On February 21, 1853, a law was passed that reduced the weight of all U.S. silver coins to be minted – except silver dollars.

People then had more of a motive to spend newly minted silver coins than old silver coins, as the 1853 silver coins weighed less than earlier issues. People then thought of silver and gold as “money”, not as commodities.

As I discussed in that earlier article, the 1853 law had other historically important provisions and ramifications. It was a watershed event in the history of the U.S. economy. It is central to bimetallism, a policy under which a nation’s monetary unit (the dollar in the U.S.) is legally tied to both gold and silver. Bimetallism was a major political issue later in the 19th century. In 1896, William Jennings Bryan focused his presidential campaign on a proposal for ‘free coinage of silver’ and reviving bimetallism.

The exemption of silver dollars from the new law was an attempt to protect the silver to gold ratio in a legal or political sense.

Nevertheless, most people knew that the value of gold was falling as gold from mines in the West had been major factors in markets in the Eastern U.S.
The reasons for the adding of arrows again in 1873 to dimes, quarters and halves was to announce the Coinage Act of 1873 and to indicate that the metric system was being used to specify weights of coins, a controversial and awkward idea at the time. There was not much interest in the metric system among the general public.

Some economists view the Coinage Act of 1873 as effectively placing the U.S. economy on a gold standard. Others, such as J. Laurence Laughlin, figured that silver was really subordinated to gold before 1853 and the Coinage Act of 1853 implied a gold standard.

The point here is not to take a position on monetary controversies in the 19th century but to show that design types of Liberty Seated coins have far more historical significance than most collectors realize. The coinage laws of 1853 and 1873, respectively, were central to the monetary history of the U.S. Indeed, the adding of arrows to Liberty Seated coins is indicative of extremely important changes and developments in the U.S. economy, which continue to be fervently debated by historians and economists.

Half Dimes

Half dimes were specified to weigh half as much as corresponding dimes. Liberty Seated coins were specified to consist of 90% silver and 10% copper.

Overall, there are nine design types of half dimes:

  1. Flowing Hair (1794-95)
  2. Draped Bust, Small Eagle (1796-97)
  3. Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle (1800-05)
  4. Capped Bust (1829-37)
  5. Liberty Seated, No Stars (1837-38)
  6. Liberty Seated, With Stars, No Drapery (1838-40)
  7. Liberty Seated, With Stars, With Drapery, No Arrows (1840-1859, except 1854-55)
  8. Liberty Seated, With Arrows (1853-55)
  9. Liberty Seated, Legend on Obverse (front) – 1860-73

Types five though nine are Liberty Seated half dimes. Representatives of all can be found for less than $500 each. In January 2015, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-55 1837 (of type #5 above) for $447.

Plenty of ‘With Stars, No Drapery’ (type #6) half dimes in AU grades can be found for much less than $500 each. In November 2015, an NGC-graded AU-55 1839 was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers for $141.

Of type #7, 1840 to 1859 except 1854-55, AU grade coins of many dates can be bought for less than $200 and a Good-04 grade coin might cost less than $20. A half dime ‘With Arrows’ (type #8) in AU grades could be easily purchased for less than $200. In October 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded AU-55 1854 for $117.50.

Of the final type (#9) with the legend on the obverse, a Civil War era coin that has been certified as grading AU-55 or AU-53 could be acquired for less than $150. In August 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded MS-63 1862 half dime for $199.75.


A total type set of silver U.S. dimes requires just 13 coins, six of which are Liberty Seated types:

  1. Draped Bust, Small Eagle 1796-97
  2. Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle 1798-1807
  3. Capped Bust, “Large” 1809-28
  4. Capped Bust, “Small” 1828-37
  5. Liberty Seated, No Stars 1837-38
  6. Liberty Seated with Stars and No Drapery, 1838-40
  7. Liberty Seated with Stars and Drapery, 1840-1853, 1856-60
  8. Liberty Seated — Arrows & Stars 1853-55
  9. Liberty Seated – Legend on Obverse (front), 1860-73, 1875-91
  10. Liberty Seated – Arrows & Legend on Obverse, 1873-74
  11. Barber 1892-1916
  12. Mercury 1916-45
  13. Roosevelt 1946-64, and particular Proofs from 1992 to the present

1854 Seated Liberty DimeA Very Fine grade ‘No Stars’ dime (type #5) would be likely to cost much less than $500. In November 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-55 1837 ‘No Stars’ dime for $305.50.

For a few dates of the 1838 to ’40 With Stars, No Drapery type, Extremely Fine-40 to AU-58 grade coins tend to range in value from $150 to $500. There are many variables that relate to coins. Two coins that are graded EF-45 by the same service, even if struck from the same pair of dies on the same day, may be very different in the present. They can vary in terms of toning, luster, originality and technical factors, including quantity and severity of contact marks.

Dimes minted from 1840 to 1853, with stars and drapery, are not difficult to collect. There are many AU grade coins available for less than $180 and Good-04 grade coins can sometimes be bought for less than $15.

As for 1853 to ‘55 ‘With Arrows’ dimes, an Extremely Fine grade coin could be found for less than $100. In July 2016, Heritage sold an NGC-graded AU-55 1854 dime from the James McClure Collection for $164.50.

As with half dimes, the name of our nation was placed on the obverse in 1860 (type #9). A VF-20 to EF-45 grade 1861 or 1862 could be acquired for a price in the range of $25 to $60, depending upon the characteristics of the individual coin.

A VF-20 to EF-40 grade 1873 Philadelphia Mint dime ‘With Arrows’ would probably sell for prices in a range from $50 to $150. In March 2014, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-58 1873 ‘With Arrows’ dime for $340.75. Generally, a type set of circulated Liberty Seated dimes is easy and inexpensive.


Not including modern variations of Washington quarters, there are 14 design types of U.S. quarters, six of which are of Liberty Seated coins:

  1. Draped Bust, Small Eagle (1796 only)
  2. Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle (1804-07)
  3. Reich Capped Bust, “Large” (1815-28)
  4. Kneass Capped Bust, “Small” (1831-38)
  5. Liberty Seated, No Drapery, No Motto (1838-40)
  6. Liberty Seated, With Drapery, No Motto (1840-53 and 1856-65)
  7. Liberty Seated, Arrows & Rays (1853 only)
  8. Liberty Seated, Arrows, No Motto, No Rays (1854-55)
  9. Liberty Seated, With Motto (1866-73 and 1875-91)
  10. Liberty Seated, Arrows, Motto (1873-74)
  11. Barber (1892-1916)
  12. Standing Liberty, Open Chest (1916-17)
  13. Standing Liberty, Covered Chest (1917-30)
  14. Washington (1932-on)

PCGS 1871 25c XF45Regarding 1838 to 1840, ‘No Drapery quarters, VF-20 to EF-40 grade piece tend to fall into a price range of $100 to $435. The type minted from 1840 to ’53 and again from 1856 to ’65 (#6 above) is not scarce in circulated grades.

About a year ago, the firm GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-45 1847 quarter for $145.20. The same firm sold a PCGS-graded AU-55 1845 quarter for $277.20 in January 2016. I am not recommending individual coins in this discussion.

Only in 1853, quarters were minted with arrows on the obverse and rays on the reverse. Such rays do not appear on quarters minted in later years.

In January 2017, GreatCollections sold two different PCGS-graded AU-50 1853 quarters. The first brought $260.70, and the second went for $275.60.

In 1854 and 1855, quarters had arrows and did not have rays (type #8). In January 2017, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded AU-50 1854 for $176.25.

In 1866, the motto “In God We Trust” was added to the respective reverse designs of quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, half eagles ($5 gold coins), eagles ($10 coins) and double eagles ($20). Finding one ‘With Motto’ quarter for a type set is not a challenge. Philadelphia Mint dates from the 1870s are often selected for type sets.

There are innumerable ‘With Motto’ Liberty Seated quarters available for less than $500 each. In April 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-45 1871 for $318.18. In September 2016, Heritage auctioned a different PGGS graded EF-45 1871, which had a CAC sticker, for $440.63.

Like corresponding dimes and half dollars, there are 1873 and 1874 quarters ‘With Arrows.’ This month, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-45 1873 ‘With Arrows’ coin for $229.51. A Good-04 grade 1873 or 1874-S ‘With Arrows’ quarter could be acquired for less than $30.

Half Dollars

The Liberty Seated design types of half dollars mirror those of quarters. For a type set of Liberty Seated coins, the 1839 ‘No Drapery’ is the key date, a scarce one-year type.

In November 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded Fine-15 1839 ‘No Drapery’ for $446.50. A year earlier, this same firm sold a PCGS-graded VG-10 coin for $246.75.

Half dollars of the With Drapery, No Motto type are not hard to find. Less than two weeks ago, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-45 1844 for $204.82. In November 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-40 1841 for $329. There are many Extremely Fine or even AU grade coins of this type that may be purchased for less than $500 each.

Like 1853 quarters, 1853 halves exhibit both arrows and rays. A PCGS- or NGC-graded AU-50 grade piece would be likely to cost less than $500. A Good to Very Good grade 1853 would probably cost less than $50.
PCGS 1873 50c XF45In 1854 and 1855, halves were minted with arrows and without rays. In January 2016, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-50 1854 ‘With Arrows’ half for $306. In September 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1855 half for $100.

As for the ‘With Motto’ type (1866-91, except 1874), all circulated representatives of relatively less scarce dates tend to be priced below $500 each. In April 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded AU-55 1876-S, with a CAC sticker, for $326.70.

Circulated Liberty Seated coins with CAC stickers tend to be scarce. A CAC-only type set of Liberty Seated coins, for less than $500 each, would be more of a challenge than a set with PCGS- or NGC-graded coins without stickers. In many cases, CAC-approved coins are worth significant premiums. Some patience may be required, however, to complete a set.

As with dimes and quarters, arrows were added to half dollars in 1873 and this type was also struck in 1874. In January 2017, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded AU-50 1873 ‘With Arrows’ half for $470. In March 2016, Stacks’-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-45 1873 for $258.50. A Good-04 or better grade piece could be purchased for less than $50.

Silver Dollars

There are just two design types of Liberty Seated silver dollars, ‘No Motto’ from 1840 to 1866 and ‘With Motto’ from 1866 to 1873. With a budget maximum of $500 per coin, it is easy to select two for a type set.

In January 2016, a PCGS-graded VF-30 1847 brought $399.50 in a Heritage event. In June 2016, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded VF-30 1841 for $376. On February 14, 2016, GreatCollections sold an NGC-graded VF-30 1843 for $341. Nine months earlier on June 14, 2015, this same firm sold a PCGS-graded VF-20 1843 for $331.10.

Those of the ‘With Motto’ type are a little scarcer in sum. In September 2016, Heritage sold an NGC-graded EF-40 1860 dollar for $481.75.

Earlier this month, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded VF-35 1871 for $446.50. In December, a PCGS-graded EF-45 1872 brought this exact same price, $446.50. In January 2017, a PCGS-graded EF-40 1872 with some pleasing toning went for $493.50. A VG-08 or -10 grade Liberty Seated dollar could be purchased at auction for less than $300.

Concluding Thoughts

It is surprisingly easy to complete a type set of Liberty Seated coins, without spending as much as $500 on any one coin. Indeed, many VF-30 to AU-55 grade pieces could be acquired for much less than $500. As already mentioned, a Twenty Cent piece could easily be added for a small price.

A fairly well matched set in Very Fine-30 to EF-45 grades may be a sound objective. CAC-approved coins should be considered when practical.

© 2017 Greg Reynolds


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Recent Articles in the Series on Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each:

Capped Bust Half Dimes | Capped Bust Quarters | Liberty Head Nickels | Barber Dimes | Proof Shield Nickels | Braided Hair Half Cents | Matron Head Large Cents | Classic Head Half Cents | Draped Bust Half Cents | Classic Head Large Cents | Gem Early Lincoln Cents | Indian Head Half Eagles | Two Cent Pieces | Three Cent Nickels | Indian Head Quarter Eagles | Copper-Nickel Indian Cents | Standing Liberty Quarters | Walking Liberty Half Dollars | Bust Half Dollars

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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