General Comments

1855 is a key date in the Liberty Seated Dollar series, part of the low mintage run of coins minted in the 1850’s. With a mintage ranking of 18th out of 47 the collector would expect that it would not be difficult to locate, but that’s usually not the case. 1855 dollars are very scarce, with availability similar to the often compared 1854. Nice problem-free examples can be located, but patient searching is required. Heritage auctions have offered, on average, fewer than 4 examples each year since 2000.

Mint state examples are very rare. Only 40 examples have received a mint state grade at any level from the two major grading services, and several those examples are surely re-submissions. Choice examples are truly rare, virtually unobtainable. In MS63 or better this is one of the toughest dates in the entire series. The finest known business strikes are three MS64 examples, two graded by PCGS and one by NGC. One of the two PCGS coins is now in a MS64+ holder. PCGS has graded six additional coins MS63. NGC has graded only two at that level. Again a few of these are probably duplicates. We must add, however, that we believe a few of the 1855 coins slabbed as proofs are actually early business strikes. This could explain the incredibly small number of high-grade business strikes. We note, however, that lower grades are a little more available than 1854 examples. PCGS has graded 12 coins in the VF grade range, and 7 lower. NGC has graded 4 VF, with one lower. Population statistics are as of February, 2017.

Mintage 26,000
Proof mintage 60-75 estimated
Mintage ranking 18th
Finest known MS64+
PR66 Cameo
Known obverse dies 1
Known reverse dies 1
Known die marriages 1
Most common die marriage OC-1/ R3+
Rarest business strike die marriage OC-1/ R3+
Rarest die marriage OC-P1/ R5+
1855 business strike examples are almost always softly struck. Star centrals are usually weakly defined, sometimes totally flat on the right. Most examples show slight weakness on the upper edge of the eagle’s left wing. We’ve seen a few examples that are almost fully struck, in particular one of the PCGS MS64 examples that auctioned in June, 2017, as part of the Gene Gardner Collection. We’ve seen none that we’d call sharp. A coin with a full sharp strike would be considered an incredibly rarity. High-grade business strikes are usually frosty, but occasionally prooflike. Since the dies were first used to strike proofs the early strikes are prooflike. In fact we suspect that a significant number of the pieces slabbed as proofs are simply early business strikes. This is a possible explanation for the incredibly small number of high grade business strikes.

1855 proofs are rare, but not so much so as their counterparts in the 1840’s. Population reports show a total of 48 graded by the two major services. These almost certainly include a few resubmissions and at least one or two early business strikes incorrectly attributed as proofs. That said, there’s no conclusive way to differentiate proofs from business strikes, since they come from the same die pair. It’s a judgment call, based on strike and appearance. The highest proofs graded are PR66, with three at this level, one graded by PCGS and two by NGC. Two of the three are designated as cameo’s, one at each service. PCGS shows three coins at PR65, one of these with a cameo designation. NGC also shows three at that level, with one cameo. PCGS has graded 14 coins PR64, including one plus and three cameo. NGC has graded 10 at the PR64 level. 1855 proofs are usually found with strong strikes. Any strike weakness could be an indication that the coin is an early business strike. Population statistics are as of February, 2017.

1855 Die Marriages

We’ve identified only a single die pair for 1855. Both proofs and business strikes were coined from the same die pair. The following table summarizes the known die marriages, with specific comments following.

Die Marriage


Obverse Die

Reverse Die

Estimated Survivors

OC-P1 R5+ P1 PA 40
OC-1 R3+ P1 PA 300

A single pair of dies was used to strike both proofs and business strikes. As noted in the table above we’ve assigned separate identifiers to the proofs and business strikes, but it should be noted that differentiating between the two is a judgment call, based mostly on strike and appearance. Middle to late die states of the business strikes exhibit a reverse die crack that extends up from the rim through the lower left side of the E in ONE to the upper right side of the N. This die crack is unique to business strikes. Proofs exhibit a die line on the rim below the E in ONE, but it’s not unique to the proofs. We’ve seen this die line on a few early issue business strikes. These features are pictured in the descriptions of the individual die marriages.

One additional subject needs to be addressed before leaving the discussion of 1855 die marriages. Both Breen (reference 7 and reference 20) and Bowers (reference 4) concluded that 1855 business strikes used an obverse die that differed from the proof obverse. They also concluded that the prevailing 1855 proof die pair, which would be our OC-P1 die marriage, used a reverse die that was transitional from 1854. We are certain that both these observations are incorrect. The 1855 business strike and proof obverse dies are definitely the same. We’ve identified three different reverse dies on 1854 proofs. None are transitional to 1855. Breen then identifies a second, much rarer, proof die pair, with the same obverse die paired to a different reverse. After years of searching, and a complete review of the Heritage archives, plus several other sources, we’ve been unable to confirm the existence of the second die pair. Bowers also included a second die pair in his reference (reference 4). We believe that his second proof die marriage was a re-iteration of Breen’s incorrect conclusion.

Based on the problems with Breen’s data on the first die pair, and the probability that Bowers based his conclusions on the Breen reference, we’ve concluded that the second pairing doesn’t exist. We will, however, remain on the lookout for any future data that might negate this conclusion.

1855 Emission Sequence

With only a single die marriage the emission sequence isn’t terribly interesting, but it should be noted that our observations of die wear indicate that the proofs were minted prior to the business strikes. This supports the conclusion that a few coins identified as proofs are actually early business strikes, since the dies had been polished for the proof strikings. The first business strikes issued were almost certainly highly prooflike.

Emission Order

Die Marriage


1 OC-P1 Die wear indicates that the proofs were minted prior to the business strikes
2 OC-1

1855 Quick Finder Chart

With only a single die pair attribution is easy. The only difficulty is separating proofs from business strikes.

Die Marriage

Obv. Die

Rev. Die

Right Base
of 1

Keys to Identification

OC-P1 P1 PA JL of C Obverse:   Date is just below centered, slanting down. Base of 1 is JL of C.
Reverse:   A die line on the rim below the left side of the D in DOL (also seen on early die state business strikes). No die crack from the rim below the E in ONE.
OC-1 P1 PA JL of C Obverse:   Date is just below centered, slanting down. Base of 1 is JL of C.
Reverse:   A die line on the rim below the left side of the D in DOL only for early die states. A die crack from the rim below the E in ONE to the upper right side of the N in ONE only for middle to late die states.

Photo credits:

Obverse and reverse full photos:   PCGS MS64, ex. Gene Gardner, from the Heritage archives.

Copyright © 2015, by Dick Osburn and Brian Cushing, All rights reserved.