PLEASE BE SEATED
PLEASE BE SEATED
Why, oh why is it nowadays so difficult to find … quarters minted between 1840 and 1852 in the various and sundry grades of Mint State? Well, that may be like asking why is the sky blue. I don’t know the answer to this question, but it’s a cold, hard fact. This is one of those head-scratching phenomena of numismatics that is realized in its process of reduction to statistics. And this is but one of many (E PLURIBUS UNUM) of the enlightening tidbits of information that keep the adrenaline of the student of antebellum America coinage flowing. This is the kind of data that encourages speculation initially, and ultimately, the quest for and the relentless pursuit of the truth.
Coins of the Seated Liberty design (“Seated”, for short) come in five 90% silver denominations: dollars; halves; quarters; dimes; half dimes. The first Seated motif was introduced in 1836 by Christian Gobrecht on his famous proof-only “Gobrecht Dollar” of 1836-39 which bears his inscription. The design on the dollar was modified for mass production in 1840 to the traditional devices used on all U.S. silver coins. Seated Liberty coins are not only beautiful creations of the Mint but are also widely collected by die variety and die state. As the earliest Seated coins were the first large-scale production for most of the silver denominations including the quarter (which switched from the Capped Bust design during 1838) using the then-novel steam press, there were occasional problems in the striking of these coins. The devices on Seated coins of 1837-40 usually come well-struck, but many die conditions (cracks, clashes, etc.) are known over all Seated series, the discoveries of which are attributable to members of the Liberty Seated Collectors Club (LSCC). Larry Briggs, Brian Greer, Randy Wiley & Bill Bugert and other well-known LSCC members have identified numerous varieties of many dates in the Seated Liberty coin series which ran all the way to 1891 for the dime, quarter and half.
Anyway, the bottom line on the early Seated quarters is that mint-state “pre-Arrows” (1838-52) Seated Liberty quarters are scarce. In fact, in analyzing the “population reports” of the leading third-party grading services, for most dates in this range they could be classified as rare in Select (MS63) and above. The 1846 issue, for example, which was coined only in Philadelphia, despite a recorded mintage of 510,000, boasts a very low “pop” in MS60 and above, and less than a dozen specimens have been graded MS64 or higher by PCGS and NGC combined. And this does not take into account the possibility of duplicate tabulations of the same “64” that someone may have attempted to upgrade to a “65”. Contrast this tiny number with the populations of most years of the Reduced Size Capped Bust quarters (1831-38) and the Arrows and later No Motto Seated issues (1853-62) and you see how dramatic the drop is. And speaking of “drop”, one variety of 1846 that I am fond of is that of the “dropped 6”, identified by Walter Breen (entry #3966) in his Encyclopedia as very rare. Throughout the 1840s quarter issues, noteworthy varieties have been identified even in low circulated grades. This goes without saying, but numerous opportunities abound in the early Seated quarters, and I feel that the 1840-52 period reflects an essentially untapped resource when quarters from this era are discovered in truly original, uncirculated condition. And this statement is much stronger the higher we go up the “MS” ladder.
Another subseries I find particularly interesting to study is the run of pre-Arrows halves of the era concurrent with the scarce quarters. Although somewhat more plentiful than the quarters (at least in part because so many more were minted during this time), they are also tough in MS63 and above. From the beginning of the Seated half in mid-1839 through the 1846 issues, the “pops” for select and better coins are quite low. In my opinion the most attractive (and as a general rule the best struck) Seated halves are the “Small Letters” specimens of 1839-42, and the 1840 Philly date is somewhat more available in MS64 than any of the other pre-1847 issues. The 1847-52 dates, however, are not common, by the furthest stretch of the imagination! Although the 1853 halves command a sizable premium because of their “Arrows & Rays” mystique, the pops of 1853 in most grades are multiples of those of any of the pre-Arrows dates.
Pre-1859 Seated dollars are also difficult to procure in Mint State, and when so are usually MS60 because of heavy bag transportation contact marks. There were no arrows used on Seated dollars because their weight was not reduced from 1852 to 1853 as were the other denominations. Pre-Arrows dimes and half dimes are more plentiful in Choice to Gem Mint State, but nice dimes today are mostly confined to the 1838, 1839, 1840, 1842 and 1845 issues. The “No Stars” dimes and half dimes of 1837 and part of 1838 were once thought to be rare choice, and today the 1837 issues are relatively available. Yet they are in demand in some circles because their obverses appear as scaled-down versions of the coveted Gobrecht dollar. “Seated lovers” of the LSCC have done in-depth analysis on Seated coins across-the-board.
So the hunt for quality Seated to enhance your collection can be quite a challenge!