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San Diego Collection of Proof Seated Dollars

By Dan DuncanRetired, Pinnacle Rarities ……

In 2011, Pinnacle Rarities purchased the San Diego Collection of Seated Dollars, an amazing grouping featuring 14 of the 16 possible dates from 1858 to 1873. Selected by an astute California numismatist, each example is an exquisite treasure.

Collectively, this accumulation is one of the finest assembled collections of this scarce proof type. All the specimens are at or near the top of the PCGS population report, with every date chosen for premium eye appeal attributes and original patination.

The Seated series is from a captivating period in both the nation’s history and the Mint’s. The series in all its denominations saw at its inception a budding nation pushing west, and during it’s midlife, the Civl War. The Seated coin’s demise came as we had grown industrially to a nation whose monetary concerns were focused on international trade. The demand for silver as a unit of foreign trade caused much of the mint state examples to be exported to the Orient.

Many of the proof survivors are more plentiful today than their mint state counterparts. However, with most mintages under a thousand coins and 150 years of attrition, choice examples of the proofs are quite elusive.

The design was born from desire for new designs that implemented the technological changes the Mint had undergone. Steam presses had been employed and new machinery made the processes to create the dies from plaster models greatly improved. The new Mint Director Robert Patterson and Chief Engraver William Kneass both envisioned a new uniform design that would take advantage of the new machinery and ease production restraints for faster production with better quality output. Design work done previously by Kneass was rejected. Patterson commissioned Thomas Sully, a renowned painter, to create renderings of a seated motif similar to the Britannia coinage circulating at the time. Kneass suffered a stroke in 1836 and the Mint turns to Christian, employing him at first as the second engraver.

Gobrecht prepared dies and dollars were struck for the first time since the early 1800’s. For the obverse of this dollar (now called the Gobrecht dollar), he used Sully’s seated rendering. He modeled the reverse after a sketch by Titan Peale. This “onward and upward” eagle was replaced for minor coinage and the subsequent dollars that the mint began producing in 1840.

The numbers produced of the early Seated coins were remarkably low (most in the 15 to 25 coins range). However, beginning in 1858, proof sets were produced for distribution to the public for the first time. Mintages rarely got above 1000 sets and most years production was under 600. Proof dollars are tough in lower grades for most dates starting in 1858, but lower grade examples appear in auctions and on the bourse floor with some frequency. The higher end and gem plus examples remain extremely scarce and usually trade hands privately.

The Collection:

1858 S$1 PCGS PR64+CAM 1858 S$1 PR64+CAM

Proof sets were offered to the public for the first time in 1858. Previously dated proof coins were struck and sold individually. Mint records are quite clear as to mintage figures for the subsequent years, but the exact number of coins struck in 1858 remains a mystery. Estimates have the total mintage between a hundred and three hundred examples. 145 combined total show on the population reports of both PCGS and NGC. While a number of these are regrades or duplicates, the estimate of 100 – 125 known examples is not far off. In cameo this proof only issue is increasingly scarce with PCGS and NGC only grading four coins each with the cameo designation (no deep cameos are known at time of writing).

1861 S$1 PCGS PR64CAM 1861 S$1 PR64CAM

Mintage figures show 1,000 silver dollars were struck for inclusion in proof sets in 1861. Demand had been overestimated and eventually over six hundred sets were melted along with some sets from earlier years. So distribution numbers and a high rate of attrition makes the 1861 quite elusive in all grades. With only 200 coins certified (undoubtedly many of these regrades) only a ten percent sampling display cameo contrast. This example is one of a dozen PR64Cameos graded by PCGS with only one lone example grading finer within the cameo designation. There are a handful of gems graded higher without the CAM grade.

1862 S$1 PCGS PR65 1862 S$1 PR65

The Civil War had begun in full earnest and the branch mints of the south had been seized by the Confederates. While coinage continued at the Philadelphia mint, mintages were decreased, and many of the smaller silver coins were being hoarded. The west coast was less affected by the ravages of the Civil War, and while circulation of coinage slowed on the east, the west saw a rise in silver coinage in use for commerce. 430 proof sets were sold by the Mint, and individual proof coins were no longer available. The low number of Mint State examples keeps date pressure on the 1862, combined with the already inherent scarcity of this issue. Rarely seen in auction, and one of only eleven coins so graded by PCGS, this proves an excellent opportunity to obtain this tough date.

1863 S$1 PCGS PR66 1863 S$1 PR66

1863 was another low mintage year within the Seated dollar series, for both mint state and proof coins alike. The Civil War had caused the suspension of paper specie payments in 1862, and many of the dollars of the era (both proof and business strikes) were hoarded. While obtaining sets from the Mint was cumbersome, many collectors (mostly north easterners) cherished the examples they plied from the Mint. The result, despite the low mintage, is a good survival rate in the near gem and better grades for the date in relation to other dates, despite low mintage figures.

Higher end examples are infrequently traded in the open market or at auction, and this date is seemingly readily available in PR64 and lesser grades. But superb gem examples are exceedingly rare and the present example resides near the top of the population reports with only 8 coins so graded by PCGS and one example deemed finer.

1864 S$1 PCGS PR65 1864 S$1 PR64

Similar in many aspects to the 1863, this Civil War issue was one of low mintage figures, date pressures from scarce mint state examples and a subject of hoarding in the mid to late nineteenth century. China was buying up all available silver coinage especially the piece of eight. The greenbacks had devalued to be worth only a fraction of face value in silver coin, so hoarding of such coins was commonplace. The examples of proof dollars obtained from the mint came through the sale of sets and as many as 470 sets were sold.

An amazing example and surely one of the finest with only sixteen coins so graded and one lone example deemed finer by PCGS.

1865 S$1 PCGS PR65CAM 1865 S$1 PR65CAM

1865 was the last year of the Civil War, and the mint continued to scale back production of the dollar coinage, but continued work in earnest on the other denominations including the new two cent coinage from 1864 and the first nickel coins, which began the following year. 500 proof dollars were produced and delivered in lots of 100. These were sold alongside the other denominations in silver proof sets. While lower grade examples from this date frequent the auction block, gem and cameo examples remain quite elusive.

This Cameo example is one of only eight coins so graded by PCGS, with nothing graded finer within the designation and only a lone 66DCAM with no 65DCAMS.

1866 S$1 “Motto” PCGS PR66CAM 1866 S$1 PR66CAM

This was the first year that the motto “In God We Trust” was added to the dollar coinage. With only a couple 1866 “No Mottos” known, collectors have to settle for one type of this year. Being the first year for the type, this dollar gets collector pressure from both type collectors and date collectors who find the MS examples extremely scarce. With the mintage of only 725, the coin remains scarce in the gem plus grades, especially with cameo and deep cameo designations.

The present example is one of only four coins so graded with a lone 68CAM better. A number of deep cameos have been graded, with nothing achieving a numerical grade higher than six. With that, and the spectacularly original appearance it is no stretch to place this example near finest known.

1867 S$1 PCGS PR66+ 1867 S$1 PR66+

During the middle of the 19th century much of the silver dollar production was not used to circulate commercially. Rather many of the commercial strikings were exported for their silver content mainly to China. Despite jockeying the alloy weights, which stimulated the need and use of the smaller coinages and circulating gold denominations, the Orient and other places abroad absorbed most of our nation’s silver dollar production. This scarcity in mint state examples pressured the availablility for the date in proof condition. By 1867, demand for proof sets had risen slightly, but mintages remained fairly low with only 725 sets produced in 1867. The dollars again were only distributed through these silver proof sets.

This is the highest numerically graded proof example for the date with a lone non-plus six having the DCAM designation, technically making this the coveted finest graded, barre none. Examples of this quality are often sold via private treaty with few superb gem example reaching the auction block.

1868 S$1 PCGS PR65+ 1868 S$1 PR65+

Our dollar traded in the Orient at a discount to the other coinage that was circulating internationally at the time – namely the Spanish milled dollars. Newly appointed director Dr. Henry Richard Linderman realized our dollar was not accepted by Chinese merchants except at a discount. He began to push for a new dollar. A number of individuals had begun a push for international currency and bimetallic coinages. Regardless, proof sets continued to be produced by the Mint with 600 silver sets being coined in 1868. As with previous years, the bulk of the mint state examples were gobbled up (albeit at a discount). The phenomenon again puts date demand pressure on choice proof examples from type and seated date collectors alike.

This is an amazing example with a small population of only one example with four coins grading finer. No cameos are graded by PCGS better than PR65.

1869 S$1 PCGS PR65 1869 S$1 PR65

Previous decades had seen the United States import nearly all of the silver used in production of the nation’s coinage. This changed with the discovery of the Comstock Lode. A new tax on the Mexican peso spurred a renewed demand for silver dollars. The Mint again upped their mintage figures, but despite increased foreign demand and increased supply, newer coined dollars often found their way into government vaults as a practical way to store silver. However, even with the higher mintage, the date as a whole remains quite scarce in both mint state and proof.

1870 S$1 PCGS PR65 1870 S$1 PR65

By 1870 a number of bills were introduced to either suspend the dollar coinage or readapt the denomination either with more or less silver content. Arguments were from a number of angles, but in a nutshell they are based on the fact that four quarters wasn’t equal to the silver in a dollar, and the silver in a dollar coin wasn’t equal to that of a gold dollar. The greenbacks still circulated, but not on par with their gold and silver counterparts. There was a hue and cry to rectify this. The new mints in Carson City NV, and San Francisco CA had begun churning out coinage including a limited number of silver dollars. Dollars from both branch mints remain extremely scarce today. Proof mintage was upped to 1000 examples, and Philadelphia produced 415,000 dollar meant for circulation.

Only a handful of examples have been graded Proof 65 with four non-cameos grading higher. There are a few gem cameos and DCAMs, with a lone PR66DCAM at the top of the population report.

1871 S$1 PCGS PR65+CAM 1871 S$1 PR65+CAM

Proof sets were becoming increasingly popular and the dollars were issued in both minor and silver proof sets. 1871 was the second highest proof mintage for the motto series. The flurry of patterns continued to pour out of the mint toward the ultimate demise of the seated coinage in the coming few years.

This date is not as available with cameo designations as the previous few years.

1872 S$1 PCGS PR65+ 1872 S$1 PR65+

Business strike mintage figures had swollen to 1,105,500 coins, a record for dollars to the date. While some were exported as with earlier decades, many found their way into domestic commerce channels. The proof mintages were only slightly lowered with 950 coins for sale in sets delivered throughout the year, indicating a demand for the silver, and minor sets which included these coins.

This example has some of the doubling in the letters IN GOD, that is mentioned by Walter Breen in his Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins, and by Bowers in the first of his Silver Dollar tomes. With only a couple cameo designated examples in 65 and 66, it is hard to believe any coin available is much nicer than the present example. This is spectacular gem with electric colors residing at the top of the pop report.

1873 Seated S$1 PCGS PR66 1873 Seated S$1 PR66

By 1873 the seated dollar had finally worn out its welcome. The approval of the Trade dollar design and weights caused the dollar to loose any usefulness and was discontinued by the Act of 1873. This act also removed the two-cent piece, the three cent silver and the half dime from the mint’s obligations. The weights of the other minor coinages were changed. Undistributed examples were melted as were 2,258 proof dollars of unspecified years (including 1873).

This specimen was struck using the same reverse dies as in 1872 and 1871, showing a doubling of the letters IN GOD. The present example is an uncannily beautiful coin and is among the finest with only one deep cameo grading higher than PR66.

The proof seated dollar series is one that spans a historical period where the west was won, a civil war was fought, and the United States went from a fledgling nation to a international industrial power. Seated dollars are scarce today, but were also scarce during the times in which they were supposed to circulate. Many business strikes were melted overseas, and most dates remain elusive in both proof and mint state gem and better grades. We are exceptionally delighted to have the opportunity to purchase this outstanding collection of one of America’s most storied series.

Click HERE To View A Slideshow of the Collection

The Coins will be posting to the Pinnacle website inventory page beginning June 6, 2011.

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Pinnacle Rarities
Pinnacle Rarities
Kathleen Duncan co-founded Pinnacle Rarities in 1992. Based in Olympia, Washington, Pinnacle sought to provide continuing professional service to a clientele composed of collectors, investors and dealers from all 50states and several foreign countries. They tried to specialize in handling the rarest, most desirable coins the industry has to offer. Pinnacle closed in 2022.

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