Collecting Seated Liberty Dollars can be anywhere from a simple undertaking to a near-impossible challenge. The series contains several stoppers that make a complete set virtually unobtainable for collectors with normal budgets. On the other hand, most collectors are interested in only a type set. With just two major types, it’s easy to reach that goal.
In the paragraphs below we’ll discuss various options for collecting Liberty Seated Dollars. Before doing so, however, a short discussion of grade levels is appropriate. Many beginning collectors assume that collecting a series at the low end of the grading scale, say problem-free G4-F12, is the easiest option. This is true from a cost standpoint. For Liberty Seated Dollars, however, assembling a complete set, or even a year set in this grade range, may prove to be virtually impossible. Many dates from this series didn’t circulate widely at the time they were released, and because of their size and weight those that did circulate were often damaged. As a result, there are very few problem-free examples available at the low end of the grade range. For 6 of the 10 Philadelphia mint dates in the 1850’s we’ve seen 5 or fewer examples in grades less than VF. For two additional 1850 dates we’ve seen fewer than 10. This is truly a series for which the collector must carefully balance availability and price when deciding on a collecting goal.
A type set includes one coin for each major type represented in a series. The Liberty Seated Dollar series contains only two types, no motto and with motto. Both types are readily available in all grades. A variation of the type set could include coins from the first and last years of the series. Although a little less common, 1840 and 1873 coins are also readily available in all grades, usually for a few dollars more than the most common dates.
A year set includes one coin for every year of a series, without regard to mintmark. For Liberty Seated Dollars a year set includes 33 or 34 coins, depending on whether the 1858 proof-only issue is included. Although this is the next level up from the type set, the cost and difficulty jumps enormously. Two coins, the 1851 and 1852, won’t be available in any condition for less than 5 figures, and the proof-only 1858 won’t be far behind. Several other issues in the 1850’s will be $1,500 or more. This is also where the previously discussed issues with low-grade availability come into play. Low grades are cheaper, but finding them may be impossible.
A date and mintmark set includes one coin for every date and mintmark combination issued for a series. For Liberty Seated Dollars a date and mintmark set includes 44 or 45 coins, depending on whether the 1858 proof-only issue is included. The cost and difficulty associated with assembling this set also jumps enormously since the 1870-S, with an unknown mintage and only 9 known survivors, must be included. An example of the 1870-S has typically been offered at auction once every 1-2 years. The least expensive example sold in the last 10 years cost more than $125,000. Most collectors consider the 1870-S uncollectible and opt for a set without this stopper.
A few sophisticated collectors have attempted to assemble a complete set of all proof issues, or to add these issues to a date and mintmark set. For Liberty Seated Dollars, a set which includes all proofs is more than just challenging. For all years prior to 1858 we estimate the surviving proof population at 50 coins or less. For many of the early years it’s less than 20. None of the early years are frequently available. For 1858 the survival estimate jumps to 180, but the price is still high. 1858 is a proof-only issue, and is therefore required for a complete year set, greatly increasing the demand. Proofs after 1858 had higher mintages and are readily available, though the cost will be $1,000 or more even for a mishandled or lightly circulated example.
A sophisticated collector may want to go past the options noted above by adding varieties and/or die marriages to a set. Such a goal has been extremely difficult up to now due to the lack of published information. We hope that our efforts will help remedy that situation and make variety collecting a real possibility. We’ve identified our Top-30 varieties later in this book to create a possible goal for the sophisticated numismatist.
The table below describes several collecting options and estimates the cost and time required for each. An underlying assumption in identifying the time required is that the budget is not an issue. Coins are purchased when available. A question mark is included on the time required to assemble a set which includes a mint state 1870-S, since only one example is known.
Cost and Time Required to Assemble Various Collection Options
Copyright © 2015, by Dick Osburn and Brian Cushing, All rights reserved.