Q. David Bowers
Notes on Liberty Seated Dollars
Beginning in 1840 the Mint once again made silver dollars for circulation. Except for fewer than 2,000 Gobrecht dollars (dated 1836 and 1839) produced for commerce, these were the first released into circulation since dollars dated 1802 and 1803 were released in early 1804.
The Liberty Seated dollar of 1840 was designed by Robert Ball Hughes, who altered Christian Gobrecht's Liberty Seated motif. In turn, Gobrecht had adapted the motif from a sketch by artist Thomas Sully. Essentially, Miss Liberty appears as on the Gobrecht silver dollars of 1836-1839, but less delicate in form, and now with copious drapery extending from her left elbow. The word LIBERTY, in relief on the dollars of 1836-1839, now is incuse. The engraver's name or initials do not appear.
The reverse flying eagle motif used on the Gobrecht silver dollars was abandoned and replaced by an eagle perched on an olive branch (to observer's left) and holding three arrows, a motif adapted from that first used by John Reich on the reverse of half dollars of 1807. The reverse dies are believed to have been made by Hughes and Gobrecht. The edges of all coins are reeded.
Christian Gobrecht's flying eagle design, as beautiful as it may seem to numismatists today, never was successful in terms of coinage. The motif appears on silver dollars of 1836, 1838, and 1839 and on the short-lived cent design of 1856-1858, but otherwise it was forgotten. Interestingly, early in the twentieth century when noted sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens was commenting on the artistry of previous American coinage, he singled out the flying eagle design as his favorite, and alluded to it on his double eagle reverse of 1907.
Production of Dollars
Liberty Seated dollars were struck continuously from 1840 through 1873. The series divides itself into two primary types, the design from 1840 through 1865 without motto, and the 1866 through 1873 style with IN GOD WE TRUST above the eagle on the reverse.
Most Liberty Seated silver dollars were produced at Philadelphia, which maintained a continuous coinage throughout the entire 1840-1873 span. However, New Orleans struck pieces in 1846, 1850, 1859, and 1860, San Francisco dollars were made in 1859, 1870, 1872, and 1873, and Carson City dollars were produced from 1870 through 1873.
Issues dated 1840 through 1852 were circulated primarily in the East where they saw service in everyday commerce. (Later, silver dollars would become more popular in the West than in the East.) As such, the pieces were a welcome addition to the circulating coinage.
As the price of silver rose in the early 1850s, dollar mintages decreased to the point at which only trivial quantities were struck in 1851 and 1852. In 1853, when weights of the half dime, dime, quarter, and half dollar were reduced in order to prevent hoarding, melting, and exporting, the weight of the silver dollar remained unchanged. After this time, Liberty Seated silver dollars no longer circulated at par in America. They were available only by paying a premium above face value for them.
Many if not most dollars made after early 1853, and continuing through 1860, were produced for the export trade and were shipped to China and other Orient locations, where they were melted. During the early and mid-1860s, many silver dollars were exported to Central and South America, only to reappear in circulation in America in the late 1870s. Liberty Seated dollars of all earlier dates were used in circulation once again after this time, thus accounting for the wear on numerous coins in existence today.
In the latter part of the decade of the 1850s, continuing through 1869, dollars were once again shipped in bulk to China. Thus, from 1853 through 1869, many Liberty Seated dollars were, in effect, "trade dollars" made and used for foreign commerce. Because so many coins were exported and melted during this era, published mint figures have no relation today to the number of coins available, to collectors.
Aspects of Collecting
The Appeal of Liberty Seated Dollars
In the rush to collect Morgan (1878-1921) and Peace (1921-1935) dollars, collectors have overlooked Liberty Seated dollars. Except for Phil Schuyler, Maurice Rosen, and just a handful of others, few investment writers have touched the Liberty Seated series. On the other hand, hundreds of authors have issued price predictions and investment recommendations for Morgan dollars.
For the astute collector, the Liberty Seated silver dollar series offers a great challenge, the thrill of the chase, and the very pleasurable experience of buying rare coins for low prices.
Liberty Seated dollars offer many truly elusive varieties, a number of which are available for relatively modest financial outlays. Philadelphia Mint issues in such numismatically desirable grades as Very Fine and Extremely Fine are available today for inexpensive sums, despite the fact that many years, especially those from about 1853 through 1869, are very difficult to find.
During the great Treasury release of silver dollars in 1962-1964 thousands of worn Liberty Seated pieces were released through the Federal Reserve System. I had the pleasant experience of going through large quantities of these pieces and arranging the pieces in tidy little stacks by dates, for they were unsorted when I received them. As might be expected, among the earlier (1840-1865 No-Motto type) dollars the higher-mintage issues such as 1841, 1842, 1843, 1846, and 1847 predominated, with 1847 being the most plentiful (although this date did not register the highest mintage). Among later dollars, the 1871 was the most often seen. Some San Francisco and Carson City coins were in the hoard but, unfortunately, I did not find an example, of the rare 1870-S or many of the Carson City issues. Of course, I wasn't expecting to.