By Bullion Shark LLC ……
Liberty Seated Dollars, designed by United States Mint Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht, were issued from 1840 to 1873 and were the first silver dollars issued since 1804. They are not as well known or as widely collected as Morgan and Peace dollars mainly because it is a challenging series to collect by date and mint mark.
They are divided between those that lack the motto “In God We Trust” (No Motto, issued until 1865) and those issued from 1866 that include the motto. The motto was added at the request of President Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase in response to growing religious sentiment during the Civil War.
The obverse design, which first appeared on what is called the Gobrecht dollar in 1836 and 1839, was inspired by the depictions on British large copper coins of a seated Britannia (that was itself inspired by Roman coins from the period when Rome controlled Britain). Gobrecht’s design shows Liberty seated on a rock holding a liberty cap on a pole in her left hand and grasping a shield inscribed with “LIBERTY”. Above are 13 stars for the 13 original colonies and below is the date.
The reverse features a classic heraldic eagle perched on an olive branch and holding three arrows, which conveys the dual message of being ready to defend that nation while wanting peace, with “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” inscribed above and “ONE DOL.” below. In 1866, the motto was added in a scroll above the eagle.
Because these coins did not circulate as widely as dimes, quarters, and half dollars of the same design, Liberty Seated dollars are typically found in grades from Very Good to Extremely Fine, with AU coins being scarcer and nice Mint State pieces (especially high-grade ones) being truly rare.
In fact, as Arnold Landsberg explained in a 1981 Coin World article, because of the low mintages for most dates except towards the end of the series in 1871 and 1872 and their low survival rates, Liberty Seated dollars are actually 500 times scarcer than Morgan dollars and 200 times scarcer than Peace dollars.
Other dates that turn up in Mint State are the 1869-O and the 1860-O, which were part of a large number of silver dollars the U.S. Treasury Department released in 1962.
Initially, the coins were only issued in small numbers at the Philadelphia Mint. In 1846 the New Orleans Mint also began producing them.
Silver prices soared in the 1840s as the gold supply increased due to the large gold discoveries of the California Gold Rush. Because this resulted in high silver prices, and dollar coins–unlike the smaller denominations–did not have the amount of silver in them decreased under the Coinage Act of 1853, people began hoarding and melting Seated Liberty dollars and many were also exported.
While it is not certain why silver dollars were exempt from the law requiring the reduction of silver content, it appears to be related to the fact that these coins were often exported. Others say it is because it was our flagship silver coin of the time.
All of this resulted in the U.S. going on a de facto gold standard in which silver coins had to be paid for with gold. Silver prices remained elevated into the 1860s, and those who wanted the coins struck, such as collectors, had to pay a premium to do so.
Seated Dollars produced at the San Francisco and Carson City Mints include most of the rarest dates. For instance, there is the 1870-S, which is one of the greatest American rarities with only about a dozen examples known (including an estimated three Mint State coins and nine circulated ones) out of an original striking of 300 (although the coin was never included in official Mint records). The controversial numismatist Walter Breen thought that these coins may have been made as presentation pieces to include in the cornerstone of the Mint building.
The series ended in 1873 because of the Coinage Act of 1873–also known as the “Crime of 1873” among Free Silver proponents–that ended the right to bring one’s silver bullion to a mint facility and have it struck into coinage. The law also ended the bimetallism of our currency being backed by silver and gold and began the process of putting the U.S. on the gold standard.
This law also authorized the production of the Trade dollar, which, due to its slightly heavier weight than other silver dollars, was used to pay merchants in China. A provision was added to make the coins legal tender within the U.S. but with a limit of $5 per person, which later created problems when silver prices declined and large quantities of them began appearing in circulation.
In terms of their appearance and striking, Seated Liberty dollars tended to be well struck. When examining them, it is advisable to look at the hair details on Liberty for the obverse and to examine the details of the eagle for the reverse.
For those interested in varieties, authors Dick Osburn and Brian Cushing created a website called www.seateddollarvarieties.com that includes key information from the book they wrote.
The authors also calculated that of the almost 6.5 million total Seated Liberty silver dollars ever struck, only about 82,000 (or 1.3%) of them have survived. That is why many collectors purchase examples of the main design types (with and without motto) for their type sets rather than collecting these coins by date and mint mark as more advanced collectors do.
And for the really advanced collector, there are the ultra-rare Proof coins. Keep in mind that for Proofs issued before 1858, survival rates are around 20-50 coins per issue!