By Greg Shishmanian …..
A longtime friend and I were enjoying one of our many conversations on our favorite series when suddenly he suggested that I build a Liberty Seated Dollar (LSD) grading set. For several decades we’ve focused on acquiring premium quality (PQ) examples of each date. I’d never considered building a grading set and the idea intrigued me. To my knowledge, there has not been an LSD grading set on display. Although there are online PhotoGrade, sets they lack completeness and or quality.
My initial goal was to build a partial grading set using a single date from VF-30 through MS-63 with all examples graded by PCGS or NGC and approved by CAC. Choosing a common date would definitely allow me to progress much more rapidly and without investing a lot of money. In addition, owning multiple examples of the date would jump-start the set and accelerate its completion. After careful consideration, the date of 1871 was chosen since it is one of the most common dates in the series and I like the With Motto design. Besides, four certified examples of this date were already in my collection–AU-55, AU-58, MS-62, and MS-63–and all were CAC approved.
So with most of the high grades completed, one might assume that the rest would be easy. That assumption proved to be false; to my surprise, the final and most difficult coin to locate was an example graded VF-20.
Over the next few years, several exceptional EF and AU examples were purchased that any collector would be proud to own. Original VFs and low-grade uncirculated examples were proving difficult to find. One day, while surfing the web, a perfect G-6 popped up on the screen. Buying this specimen would compel me to extend the set from VF down to at least G-6. This was an irresistible opportunity and the purchase was made. When you consider its age and condition, it’s remarkable that this coin survived with smooth surfaces and natural toning.
Thrilled with this new purchase my new goal was a broader partial set, skipping over some grades while maintaining a consistent interval between grades (for example: P-1, AG-3, G-6, etc.).
Only premium coins were purchased regardless of their current status. This included raw and certified coins that were misgraded, required crossover, and or required CAC approval. Purchasing a coin raw or attempting to cross a coin from another grading company and seeking to receive a specific grade from PCGS or NGC can be a real challenge. In addition, many numismatists haven’t utilized CAC services and do not appreciate the high standards that CAC requires before approving LSDs. Regardless of the grade, each successful attempt was a delight and honed my grading skills. For example, a trip to the annual BRNA Convention in Dalton, Georgia yielded a wonderful raw example that graded AG-3 and was approved by CAC. A first-rate VF-35 example was removed from an old ANACS holder, awarded the same grade by PCGS, and approved by CAC.
While building this set, it became apparent that some of the certified examples graded from VG to VF did not meet my standards of wear for the grade. Although each grading service has its own grading standards, it became clear that the services were not always adhering to the American Numismatic Association (ANA) grading standards that state very specific requirements for the word “Liberty”. My opinion was confirmed by CAC when several examples grading F-15, VF-25, and VF-30, were not approved because of excessive wear for the grade. John Albanese confirmed their originality and said that he would approve them at the next grade down.
The PCGS population report revealed that only one 1871 dollar had been graded P-1. This data lead me to consider other options and formulate an alternative solution. In addition, finding naturally toned premium quality examples graded MS-60 and MS-61 had eluded me; perhaps these grades could be skipped without a major disruption in the flow of the set. A combination of patience and compromise proved to be the solution.
A friend mentioned that our mutual friend Jim had just received an 1872-S back from NGC graded Poor-1. Although it was not an 1871, it piqued my interest and after in-hand viewing, it was clear that this example would fit the set perfectly. Not only was it a With Motto type but it’s also one of my favorite dates, and it had smooth surfaces and natural toning. After sharing my intention to include this example in a grading set it was time to ask Jim for a price. My heart sank when he told me that it wasn’t for sale. He explained that in a Heritage auction it might bring $1,600 to $1,800. My jaw hit the floor, I respectfully replied, “It’s possible, but I don’t think it would bring that much.” The ride home was a long one, wondering what was a fair price for this coin?
A few weeks later I posted a thread on the Liberty Seated Collectors Club (LSCC) message boards titled “Low-Ball LSD Sets” asking “What would you offer for an 1872-S graded Poor-1 by NGC? Assume the coin is problem-free with natural-toned surfaces.” Feeling a bit more confident after receiving offers from nine fellow collectors I called Jim and sensed a possible willingness to sell. The following day, the adventure began with a one-hour drive, knowing that this purchase was a long shot but convinced that it was worth another try. The nine offers ranged from $100 to $300 with an average offer of $191. One collector responded, “The owner/dealer thinks $1,600 to $1,800 that’s nuts, let us know if you get a tube of Vaseline with that coin!”
Trying to keep my hope from showing after our brief discussion it was time to ask Jim for a price. He hesitated for what seemed like an eternity and finally said $500. My immediate response, “Sold” was based on several concerns. First, when would another opportunity to acquire an acceptable Poor-1 With Motto example occur? Second, what was the probability of finding the one 1871 graded Poor-1 by PCGS? And was it an acceptable example? Will this prove to be a good deal? Experience has taught me that sometimes collectors must stretch and pay what is required to obtain PQ examples we need for our collections.
My goal was accomplished and I sincerely appreciated Jim’s willingness to compromise and make a deal. This coin was crossed to PCGS and then approved by CAC, but after considerable contemplation, I decided to exclude it from the set because of the date.
Another fond memory of building this set occurred at the fall Baltimore show. A long-time friend and dealer walked up and handed me two 1871 dollars both graded MS-61 by PCGS. Both were naturally toned, but one had the look that fit my set perfectly. All that remained to add this example to the set was to agree on a price. The dealer priced both coins and to my surprise, the preferred one was almost 25% less than the other. It’s rare to be offered two seated dollars of the same date and grade at the same time. Even more unusual is when the coin you prefer is priced significantly lower than the one you don’t.
After confirming the price, the entire purchase was completed in about a minute. This is an example of how long-term relationships can be very valuable.
Recently I purchased an 1871 graded MS-61. I am convinced that this coin has light obverse wear on the high points. Although I owned an example grading AU-58 I felt this coin had the perfect look for the set. I removed it from the holder and submitted it for grading. Attempting to downgrade a coin is contrary to the goals of the vast majority of numismatists but I think it illustrates how important it was for me to find premium coins for this set, regardless of the profit or loss potential.
One should have no illusions regarding the sale or investment potential of this set, someday it will likely be broken up and sold individually for little to no profit. I believe that PQ examples like these are too difficult to find to sell for a loss.
A primary motivation for building this grading set was my intention to use it as an educational tool for numismatists. Once completed the plan was to exhibit the set at a major show. In addition, my friend John Albanese has generously agreed to list it under reference sets on the CAC website. Building this set required just over 15 years due to the premium quality maintained throughout the set. I learned how difficult it can be to find premium quality naturally toned low-grade LSDs. The building of this set was enjoyable, it required immense patience, compromise, and a willingness to pay premiums for nice coins.