Q. David Bowers:
The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993).
Distribution: Despite the record mintage of 1,105,500 circulation strikes, 1872 Liberty Seated dollars are slightly scarcer today than are those dated 1871 (which has the next highest mintage). I believe that more were exported of this date than of 1871. All were paid out to depositors of silver. However, some returned to the Treasury in later years. Probably, most 1872 Liberty Seated dollars were used domestically and were seen in the channels of commerce after 1873, when their intrinsic value dropped below their face value.
Circulated grades: The 1872 is a plentiful dollar in all circulated grades, due no doubt to the combination of high mintage plus the use of this issue in domestic commerce, although specimens were not released at par in the United States until a few years after they were minted. In 1872, at the time of striking, these coins had a melt-down value of $1.03 and were available from the Mint only by paying a premium.
Mint State grades: The 1872 Liberty Seated dollar is very rare in MS-64 or higher, but in MS-60 to MS-63 it is one of the more available issues of the series. Walter H. Breen in his Encyclopedia notes that 1872 is "common in nicked Uncirculated, from at least one Treasury bag (1,000) released 1962-1964." Apparently, this information is not correct, for Walter H. Breen informed me that it came from Harry Forman, probably indirectly, who could not confirm it. Instead, Forman stated that he handled only a few dozen Mint State 1872 dollars during the time of the 1962-64 Treasury releases. Further, John W. Dannreuther has commented as follows: "There is still doubt that at least one bag of 1,000 coins was disbursed by the Treasury in the early 1960s. I say doubt, for the population data does not seem to confirm this." (Harry Forman was and is well known for having handled many dollars in quantity, and many unconfirmed rumors have circulated as to what he actually did handle. The truth is given in the detailed interviews with Forman reprinted in the present book. The Dannreuther comment is from his study, "Liberty Seated Dollars," in The Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia)
The number of known Mint State 1872 dollars is probably on the order of several hundred coins, most of which are in lower grades.
Apparently, some were mixed in with dollars of other dates during the Treasury release of 1962-1964, but no partial or full bag quantities have been confirmed. In 1982, Bruce Amspacher stated that a gem of this date came on the market once every year or two. (Article, "Liberty Seated Dollars," in the Monthly Summary, Coin Dealer Newsletter, July-August, 1982.)
Pattern note: In 1870, John Jay Knox, Deputy Comptroller of the Currency, proposed a "commercial dollar" for the China trade, in place of the standard dollar. In 1872, the Mint made various patterns with reverse reading COMMERCIAL DOLLAR. Later patterns read TRADE DOLLAR. Further details are given under trade dollars in the present work.
1. Normal Date: Breen-5490. Obverse with date lightly impressed in die; 1 and 8 in date clear of each other. Several positional varieties. (Cf. "1872 Seated Dollars," by John W. McCloskey. The Gobrecht Joumal, November 1979).
2. High Date. Date high and very close to the rocky base; distant from denticles. 1 and 8 in date clear of each other. Rarity unknown but probably common; specimen (AU-50 grade) first seen by the author in an auction consignment, August 21, 1992.
Later, a perusal of various catalogues showed several others.
3. Heavy Date: Breen-5490. Obverse with date heavily impressed in die; 1 and 8 touching at bases.
4. Blundered Date: Breen-5491. Obverse with part of extra 1 digit embedded in the rocky base below shield, just above the edge of base; parts of the bases of two 2s above and just below edge of rocky base, above 2 of date. Apparently, a four digit 1872 logotype was inadvertently lightly impressed into the working die at this point. The first specimen reported appeared in the 1974 Great Eastern Numismatic Association sale, Lot 1093, and was described as Uncirculated. Numerous others have shown up since, in various grades, some in later die states with the blunder less obvious. Dealer specialist Larry Briggs estimated that about a third of the known circulation strike 1872 dollars are of this variety. (Conversation with the author, April 6, 1992.)
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown
Circulation strike mintage: 1,105,500; Delivery figures by day: January 16: 11,000; January 18: 20,000; January 20: 11,000; January 22: 12,000; January 24: 1O,000;January 25: 5,000;January 29: 14,700; February 2: 15,000; February 3: 10,000; February 5: 8,000; February 6: 10,000; February 7: 12,000; February 9: 13,000; February 15: 25,600; February 23: 14,700; March 5: 30,000; March 15: 12,000; March 18: 10,000; March 22: 12,000; March 25: 9,600; March 27: 8,700; March 30: 6,000; April 4: 5,000; April 6: 10,000; April 10: 10,000; April 12: 9,600; April 18: 10,000; April 22: 300; May 27: 18,000; May 28: 10,400; May 31: 10,600; June 3: 14,000; June 4: 14,600;June 11: 9,600; June 21: 14,800; June 25: 18,000; July 2: 18,000; July 8: 16,000; July 10: 11,000; July 12; 15,000; July 16: 25,000; July 23: 18,000; July 25: 12,000;July 30: 34,000; August 6: 17,000; August 7: 12,000; August 15: 24,000; August 19: 23,000; August 22: 27,000; September 3: 23,000; September 6: 12,000; September 11: 14,000; September 16: 36,000; September 17: 13,000; September 20: 19,000; September 25: 26,000; October 25: 20,800; October 29: 13,000; October 31: 20,800; November 6: 25,000; November 12, 12,000; November 13: 11,000; November 14: 12,000; November 15: 14,700; December 2: 12,000; December 4: 18,000; December 5: 18,000; December 6: 9,000; December 9: 16,000; December 10: 8,000; December 11: 12,000; December 12: 8,000; December 13: 13,000; December 20: 18,000; December 24: 14,000.
Estimated quantity melted: Unknown
Characteristics of striking: Varies; some with stars 4 through 13 flat, or others flat; often with Miss Liberty's head lightly struck.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Several hundred are believed to have been released by the Treasury in 1962-1964.
The 1872 Liberty Seated dollar was coined in larger quantities than any other issue of the design.
Concerning Edge Reeding
In an article in the Gobrecht Joumal in 1978, "1872 Seated Dollars," Dr. John W. McCloskey noted that he counted the reeds on specimens of 1872-dated dollars in his collection and found that the Philadelphia coin had 179, the Carson City issue had 190, and the San Francisco piece had 177. Apparently, the three mints each made their own collars, even as with other denominations. (Per letter from Walter H. Breen to the author, February 23, 1992.) This admittedly technical subject would probably yield interesting results if the study were expanded to include other Liberty Seated issues. In particular, it would ease detection of forgeries.