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A brief history of the Seated Liberty silver dollar.

Updated on July 17, 2011
Seated Liberty on the front of the silver dollar.
Seated Liberty on the front of the silver dollar. | Source
An eagle on the back.
An eagle on the back.

Seated Liberty dollar (1840 -1873)

In 1839 the United States government discontinued the Gobrecht silver dollar. It had been designed and circulated to see if the public was ready for new silver dollar: we were. So, in 1840 a new silver dollar was minted: the Seated Liberty dollar. Like its predecessor, the obverse of the coin bears an image of Liberty seated on a rock. In fact, there are only minor differences between the two coin fronts. The design for the Seated Liberty dollar is not cast in such high relief as the Gobrecht silver dollar was, because the Seated Liberty dollar was intended to be produced in the tens of thousands; not 1600 as was the case with the Gobrecht dollar. Additionally, on the new silver dollar Liberty's head is enlarged, and her drapery thickened. These changes were made at the mint director's request by the mint engraver Robert Ball Hughes. The design for the obverse is based on the work of Titian Peale.

The reverse was dramatically changed from the Gobrecht design (a realistic representation of an eagle submitted by Thomas Sully) so that the back of the new silver dollar would have the same pattern as silver coins of lesser worth. The back depicts a more stylized eagle, clutching arrows and an olive branch in its talons, with a shield in front of it. Circling the Eagle are the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; and below the eagle are the words ONE DOLLAR. The same general design (back and front) appears on dimes, quarters, and half dollars from this period, and was created by John Reich (though Hughes did the engraving).

A notable change to the design.

In 1866, in response to both the horrors of the Civil War, and due to an impassioned plea from one Rev. R.M. Watkinson, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the silver dollar. At about the same time, for the same reasons, it was added to most of the rest of the United States coinage. Otherwise, the design for the Seated Liberty silver dollar remained unchanged until 1873 when Congress determined that silver would no longer be used in the production of coinage, and this silver dollar was discontinued. This decision was overturned a few years later, and the Morgan dollar was introduced. The Trade dollar was created in 1873 to provide silver coins for trade with China, which was one of the uses of the Seated Liberty dollar by this time.

Rare varieties of the Liberty Seated silver dollar.

In 1851 and 1852, only a total of 2400 of these silver dollars were minted. In contrast, in 1850, 47,000 were minted; and 1853 and 46,000 were. Additionally, in 1848, there was a smaller quantity (15,000) of these coins minted. The smaller runs were a direct result of the gold being discovered in California, and later in Australia. With the influx of gold, the price of silver went up. Soon, an ounce of silver was worth more than the dollar that it was stamped on. And so, dollars would be exported, hoarded, or melted down. The government reacted by making less of them for a few years. Because of this, an 1848 silver dollar is worth approximately twice as much as its counterparts; for example, those coins minted in 1849 or 1847. The scarcity of the 1851 and 1852 silver dollars has resulted in their being bought and sold at an extreme premium today. They are worth approximately 20 times the amount of silver dollars minted during the previous years (1848 variety excepted).

The famous Carson City (CC) mint mark.
The famous Carson City (CC) mint mark. | Source

More scarce varieties.

In addition to being minted in Philadelphia, these silver dollars were later produced in New Orleans, San Francisco and Carson City. Some of the runs at these mints were very low, and so this has also led to some date and mint mark varieties that are very scarce. Notable among these, are the 1870, 1871, 1872, and 1873 silver dollars that were minted at Carson City, with the CC mint mark. The mint marks are found on the reverse under the arrows held by the eagle. The 1873 silver dollar is a very rare example. It is worth approximately 15 to 20 times the value of the other coins in this series. Rarer still, is the 1873 silver dollar that was minted in San Francisco. While records indicate that 700 of these coins were made, there are no known examples of it. As such, it is one of the rarest and most valuable coins ever produced by the United States mint. To put this in perspective, consider the 1870 Seated Liberty silver dollar with a San Francisco mint mark. While these were minted, it is unknown how many were; probably less than the 1873 variety mentioned above. The 1870 S (S for San Francisco) silver dollar is listed as the most valuable coin in this series. It's value starts at $200,000 and goes up to $2 million. In May of 2003 one of these sold for 1.1 million dollars.

There is another exceptionally rare coin from this series. In 1866, when the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the coins, there were at least two that were made which did not have the motto stamped on them. In January of 2005, one of these sold for $1.2 million in an auction. In addition to being an exceptionally rare coin, the coin that sold was in almost perfect shape.

In general, these coins sell from between $275 and $45,000. It all depends on the shape that they are in. The exceptionally rare varieties that I've mentioned in this article, sell for between $5000 and $2 million.

The Seated Liberty silver dollar.

The years during which these silver dollar were produced saw many changes to the United States of America. New mints were made in San Francisco, Carson City and New Orleans. Gold was discovered in California and later overseas in Australia. This caused the price of silver to fluctuate widely both at home and abroad. The Civil War almost tore the country apart. In its wake there was a new religiosity, which resulted in the motto IN GOD WE TRUST being stamped onto all the coinage. All these events led to varieties of the Seated Liberty silver dollar to be minted that are exceptionally rare today. In addition, as the country matured, there were some later silver dollars in which the number of silver dollars minted was greater than the entire number of Seated Liberty silver dollars ever made. Because of this, the Seated Liberty silver dollar is relatively scarce. All in all, it is an exceptionally fine and beautiful coin.

Further Reading.

I've published articles about all the "true" silver dollars here on hubpages.


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    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 

      7 years ago from Florida

      My son collects silver quarters. He has other coin collects as silvr quarters are harder to find now days.

      No problem. I love to give thumbs up to good articles.


    • Robert Hughes profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Hughes 

      7 years ago

      Thanks, JT. I first got interested in coin collecting when I was about 10 or 12. One of my first memories was when my dad and I polished up a bunch of old silver coins. What a mistake that was! Collectors definitely prefer coins in their natural condition. Thanks for the vote.

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 

      7 years ago from Florida

      My son loves coin collecting.

      Vote up!


    • Robert Hughes profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Hughes 

      7 years ago

      Hi Alocsin, Thanks for the votes. As you say, getting this coin in change won't happen, it's just too old a rare for that.

    • alocsin profile image


      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I don't suppose I'd ever find this lovely coin given to me as change? Voting this Up and Useful.


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