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Coin Collector Tips: The Twenty Five Most Overlooked Early Seated Coins

By Ken Cable-Camilleis E-Gobrecht

The following is a collector value assessment of coins within the portion of the Liberty Seated series spanning the years 1837 through 1852, all denominations. The foregoing analysis is based on several factors, including but not limited to the PCGS Population/NGC Census Reports, various pricing guides, and extensive personally compiled data and statistics related to general market presence. This compilation indicates, based on my observations and research, what in the realm of mainstream numismatics could be the 25 most underrated Seated coins within this period.

1846 Half DimeMy research suggests that presently there are no overpriced Seated coins dated prior to 1853. I also surmise that most of the dimes and quarters minted from 1840 through 1851 are dramatically undervalued in the mainstream market. While working from such a large sample space of dates and varieties within the five Seated denominations covering the 16-year span of 1837-52, it was a tough call to narrow the field down to 25 specific coins that have especially captured my attention.

The reader should bear in mind that the coins enumerated in this work are not all “classic rarities” because current pricing may have already taken their rarity into consideration. They are simply coins that have received too little attention, or coins that can be obtained relatively cheaply. Some of these coins may already be recognized by LSCC members or other numismatic specialists as having been overlooked. Their market values are not, however, reflected in the most influential price guides, especially the Coin Dealer Newsletter “Greysheet” Quarterly (CDNQ) which since 1992 seems to have been the predominant buyer guide for Seated material.

1848 Seated QuarterAnother observation is that most certified coins of 1837-52 are “market graded” for their assigned grade. Therefore, I have taken into consideration that many Seated coins of this period that are certified MS60 to MS62 may actually have cabinet friction, obtrusive field abrasions or hairline scratches, poorly struck stars and areas within devices, or wear which is confused with poor strike. I have even seen Seated coins slabbed MS63 to MS65 for which I would assign technical grades in the AU range! Choice pieces seem to represent less than 25% of third-party-graded Seated coins from 1837 through 1852, and even some that have few blemishes are not fully struck (that is, all 13 stars, full head/shield details, full eagle features, and anything else that is supposed to be struck up).

The notation “ATB” means across-the-board, that is, all grades from Good through mint state (and proofs where applicable), “MS” means MS60 or better business strike, and “GEM” means MS65 or better.

25. 1840-O No Drapery 25c, ATB. This is a cute coin. I’ve developed a soft spot for this one-year-one-mint style, for which a cameo-like effect is produced with the placement of devices against the backdrop of the fields. I have found this date somewhat tough to obtain problem-free. In MS64, it appears priced almost right, but considerable upward adjustments should be made for all circulated grades and the lower MS grades. I really enjoyed the article in the CDN Monthly Supplement for December 2007 by Larry Briggs on Seated quarters … as I’ve enjoyed his great publication work of 1991. I believe that most of the mint-state coins of this issue that came from the New Orleans hoard have environmental damage from having been buried in the ground, perhaps making them not certifiable by PCGS or NGC.

24. 1848 5c Medium Date, GEM. Although a relatively “high-pop” coin, my analyses suggest that this more common variety of the 1848 Philly half dime is not as easy to find in MS65 as has been believed. In fact, its O-mint counterpart appears on the market with much greater frequency.

23. 1845-O “No Drapery” 50c, ATB. This issue should be afforded the respect that it deserves. Long recognized as a major variety, although it is more available than once believed, present price guide values do not do it justice in the circulated grades. In true mint-state, it is quite the prize if it can be obtained at 150% of “sheet.”

22. 1844 10c, MS. Yes, the famous “Little Orphan Annie.” It’s on my list but low down because of its very high publicity. However, it still appears underpriced for its rarity and especially its difficulty to obtain choice.

21. 1841 25c, MS. It seems the entire run of Philly quarters from 1840 to 1852 offers tremendous potential for unworn pieces. Although the 1841 is somewhat more common than some of the other dates in this run, I feel it is a great buy if a properly graded example can be had at anything remotely approaching (150% to 200% of) today’s price levels.

20. 1846 $1, MS. This is a cool coin by any numismatist’s standards. It appears to be considerably undervalued in MS63 and above. Enough said.

19. 1841-O 50c, MS. This is a more difficult coin to procure than most people realize. Graded specimens now often come slightly worn or weakly struck on some stars or the eagle feathers/ legs, or have many abrasions. Solid and well struck mint-state specimens are an underappreciated value.

18. 1841 50c, MS. A similar argument applies to the 1841-P as to the 1841-O half, with the Philly issue being somewhat more of a challenge to locate. This is surely undervalued in all the MS grades!

17. 1846 25c, MS. A similar argument for this as for the 1841 quarter, even stronger in terms of the 1846 being underpriced, most especially at the MS63 and MS64 levels.

16. 1844 5c, GEM. You may be asking why this coin is even on my list. Despite its relatively reduced coinage of 430,000, the 1844 half dime has been perceived to be common and easily obtainable in just about any MS grade. My studies suggest, however, that they’re not so easy in MS65 and better, and data gathered suggest that the high pops posted for this date in choice and gem grades might be considerably inflated due to multiple submissions of the same coin. A personal statistical analysis suggests that the pops in GEM for this date are skewed with respect to other common dates. Somehow $900 in the CDNQ for an MS65 just doesn’t cut it – there is a great opportunity here!

15. 1841 10c, GEM. I have noted a handful of high-grade examples of this date and I’d say all but one are over-graded. Poor luster and abraded surfaces have been noted even on those slabbed MS65. True gem 1841-P dimes should trade at levels higher than for 1838, 1839, 1840, 1842, 1843 or 1845. If you can locate a properly (the operative word!) graded gem, I would consider “double sheet” a bargain! This should be at least a $6,000 coin.

14. 1852 25c, MS. This is a rather colorful issue in that 1852 marks off the last year of a long run of very limited quarter production, in this case just 177,060, and which largely went to the melting pot the next year in favor of reduced-weight silver coins, beginning in early 1853. The 1852-P quarter is somewhat more obtainable in choice grade than the 1850 and 1851 Philly issues. Nevertheless, it is extremely underpriced in MS63 and above. I have “coined” a name for this issue – the “California Gold Rush” quarter, and this is because the silver shortage peaking in 1853 was the result of the newfound abundance of gold driving up the price of silver.

13. 1850 $1, ATB. This is an issue that seems to have gone practically unnoticed. The track record of this coin in the mainstream market borders on pathetic. Long overshadowed by the very rare 1851 and 1852 issues, the 1850-P has been a real sleeper. Even in low circulated grades the 1850 $1 does not pop up as often as the deflated prices suggest. Consider this: only 7,500 were minted, and using the “conventionally wise” estimate of a 3% survival rate, I do the math and come up with a mere 225 coins – in all grades! Even though dollar coins were not reduced in weight in 1853, a considerably small percentage of them survived the turbulent economy of the 1850s and the Civil War years. As for mint-state pieces I surmise that pop data for PCGS and NGC represent far higher figures than the actual numbers graded. This is a profoundly overlooked value – in all grades!!

12. 1843-O 10c, ATB. Amen! Gerry Fortin’s article in Issue 100 of GJ (12/07) hits the nail on the head on this one as far as MS and high-grade circulated examples of this date are concerned. However, in the CDNQ the figure of $3,200 is tabulated for MS60 and no prices are listed for higher grades. I note that the PCGS Price Guide has the 1843-O in MS60 pegged at $7,500, with a jump to $20,000 in MS63. MS60 today is a seldom-used grade on silver coins, but a coin occasionally gets market-graded MS60 for some feature such as luster, a stronger strike for the date than typically seen, or a perception to have that euphemistic “eye appeal.” The bottom line on the 1843-O dime is yes, this date is extremely undervalued even at MS60 and most of the circ grades. I’ve personally not seen anything close to a true MS 1843-O, slabbed or otherwise, and perhaps never will. It is also noteworthy that even low-grade circulated 1843-O dimes don’t appear with the frequency that is suggested by their price structure, even from VF down to Good.

11. 1846 10c, ATB. For some reason this very scarce issue has received nowhere near the publicity and popularity of the 1844 dime. Yet, it is rarer than the 1844, comes from an original mintage less than half of the 1844 (31,300), and its pops are mostly lower than those for the 1844. In higher grades (XF and above, including proofs) the price structure of the 1846 dime is making noticeable progress but still has a very long way to travel northward. It is extremely rare as a mint-state business strike. (I did see “in the metal” back in 1996 one uncertified dime of 1846 that appeared in my opinion to be a low MS, unworn anyway.) Even in the low circ grades, noticeable “collector” potential exists for this date! I can picture even a lowly Good 1846 surpassing the value of a Good 1844 within the next 10 years. And in the relatively near future, I may assign the rank of the 1846 dime higher up on my list!

10. 1840-O No Drapery 10c, MS. This is a very common coin in all circ grades but gets surprisingly tough as we cross that “great divide” into MS territory. Very few mint-state pieces have been certified by PCGS or NGC, and I’ve not seen one. I’ve not seen a MS 1840-O from any of the more recently established grading firms either. The MS64 figure is approaching where it should be but the tag is extremely low for MS63. How about this for a statistic – the PCGS Price guide has the 1840-O at $9,500 in MS63 and the CDNQ has it lagging at $1,900 – one-fifth of the PCGS value! In comparing the 1840-O to the 1843-O in MS, herein lies somewhat of a paradox: we can say the 1840-O coin is more underrated than the 1843-O simply because the 1840-O is, at least, possibly available at a price. Good luck trying to find one choice and an MS62 would be a great catch!

9. 1851 25c, MS. It’s kind of a close call which is rarer in choice grade between the 1850 and 1851 Philly quarters. My stats suggest (as does Bob Foster in his excellent article in this month’s GJ) that the 1850 is a short step ahead of the 1851 in rarity in MS. Nevertheless, the 1851-P has been “cutting Z’s” and it’s time that we woke Miss Liberty up. Larry Briggs in his excellent date-by-date analysis in the December 2007 CDN Monthly Supplement uses the word “unappreciated” and notes that MS 1851s are rare!

8. 1852 50c, MS. WOW! This is an absolutely amazing value in MS63 and above. Likely attributable to the fact that like the quarter, many 1852 halves that escaped the furnaces and the fate of being made into 1853 “Arrows & Rays” halves did not make it into circulation. A cool mintage of 77,130 represents far and away the smallest output for any Philly half dollar issue since 1815. This date can go nowhere but up …way up! Grab any properly graded examples even if the “damage” is double sheet.

7. 1842 Large Date 25c, MS. Initially recognized as a scarce and semi-key date due to its low mintage of 88,000, the 1842-P has ample potential especially in the higher grades, and it is very tough to locate in select mint state. If an example surfaces at 50% to 100% over sheet, most especially an MS63 or better, my advice is “Carpe diem!” (Seize the day!)

6. 1850 25c, MS. The 1850-P is the “sleeper” closely associated with the 1842 and 1851 Philly quarters. I have noted only four pieces certified by PCGS and NGC (I believe these are four distinct coins), which is my third-lowest tabulation in a focused study of all Philadelphia quarters of 1831 through 1865. (Take note of my statistical notations below regarding the 1848 quarter.) The same comments addressed for the 1842 Large Date quarter apply to the 1850, in a somewhat stronger sense.

5. 1837 No Stars 5c, Proof. So now we’re into my “top five” and some serious opportunities. What we have here (or may wish we had!) is one of the very first Seated half dimes! On July 25, 1837, some few dozen proof half dimes were distributed to Mint personnel in their celebration of the first successful run of this denomination on the new Seated design. I find this to be a rather inspiring piece of historical information to tie to this key coin. If you have the wherewithal and the courage of your convictions, do not think twice if one of these is offered near double sheet. I feel that all Seated proofs dated before 1854 are dramatically undervalued, especially this one and that discussed below.

4. 1837 No Stars 10c, Proof. OH YES! This is pegged as the first dime to ever appear with the word DIME on it! A similar argument applies here as for the 1837 No Stars half dime, with an added flair or two. The release date of this dime was June 30, 1837, nearly a month before the half dime, making it America’s first Seated coin! (That is, if you exclude the Gobrecht dollar of 1836, which I still consider a pattern rather than a regular issue, even though it circulated in commerce.) Think on this also: both this and the No Stars half dime are a limited issue not only in mintage but also in design – 1837 marked the only year of No Stars proof coinage! I give the Proof dime slightly higher billing over the half dime mainly because I feel it is more underpriced across the grades from PF60 through PF65. Should be about a $15,000 coin in PF63, $25,000 in PF64 and $50,000 in PF65.

3. 1840 With Drapery 25c, MS. I would label the 1840 Philly quarter as the Rodney Dangerfield of the Seated subset of 1837-52 coins … it just “don’t get no respect,” at least not in the CDNQ. The rarity of the 1840-P quarter in high grades is absolutely mind-boggling! Bob Foster in his GJ article of this month points out that only 21 examples of this special date have been certified by the two leading grading services – in over 20 years of business … and how many of those 21 tabulations might be duplicate submissions? Helloooooo, is anyone listening?! Here are some noteworthy stats:

* The PCGS Price Guide has finally begun to recognize this issue in MS64, more than doubling in a two-week period in December 2007 from $6500 to $15,000, and the latest posting in MS65 is a leap to $27,500!!

* Unlike other coins of 1840, the features on the Philly quarter are often weakly struck, especially the eagle’s feathers and leg.

* The 1840 quarter is rarer than the highly coveted 1796 Draped Bust Small Eagle quarter in all Mint State grades, and rarer than most of the Capped Bust quarter dates of 1815- 38.

* Even the kingly Eliasberg collection did not have a circulation mint-state strike of 1840 at the time of its auction sale.

* Of hundreds of mint-state “No Motto” (1838-65) quarters I’ve examined (including Internet scans), many of which are choice, I’ve noted but three 1840-Ps (all slabbed), and two of these are overgraded and weakly struck, and in my opinion they were AU.

Not many realize this, but the 1840-P With Drapery quarter is not only a transitional design issue but also distinguishable by a rather subtle reverse feature. The eagle’s beak on the 1840-P is sharper than either that of the No Drapery quarters of 1838-40 or 1841 and later dates, and the eagle’s mouth is opened ever so slightly wider than on other dates. In my opinion triple sheet is a steal on this one for a solid well-struck MS63 or better, and I now estimate that only about ten 1840 quarters are known to exist at these choice levels. Larry Briggs’ mention of seven mint-state pieces that appeared in 1983 has now aroused my curiosity, especially since that time predates most certification services. Any information regarding the whereabouts of these coins today, including their grades and pedigrees if known, I would find interesting!

2. 1848 25c, MS. In my mind I’ve batted back and forth the question of which is the rarest Philadelphia Mint Seated quarter in true mint state, the 1840 or the 1848. While all the other dates are relatively “left in the dust,” these two issues have been neck-and-neck with each other for this top spot. The order of rarity for the thirteen Philly issues of the 1840-52 group in mint state appears to be something like: 1848, 1840, 1850, 1851, 1842, 1852, 1841, 1846, 1849, 1847, 1844, 1845, 1843.

My adoration for all the 1840-52 Seated quarters is based partly on the fact that their survival rate is so low because of the mass meltings that took place in 1853 to provide silver to coin to the reduced weight, and partly because the quarters had relatively low outputs to begin with. The 1840 and 1848 have pulled away from even the rest of the pack of Philly dates 1841-52. I’ve noted four MS 1848 pieces, and curiously they’re all choice! Perhaps this is just a fluke or (rather unlikely) one of these may be a duplicate of the one of the other three. I’ve decided to give top billing to the 1848 because it is even more underpriced than the 1840, and also because the 1848 is a Philadelphia-only issue, a feature I like. As with the 1840, triple sheet (or maybe even quadruple!) for choice graded 1848s that are “all there.” Even the PCGS Price Guide posting for 1848 in MS64 is only $7,500, half of the 1840 price! Good luck finding one now; I had at least two opportunities in the 1990s (“tripled dates”) and blew them because I did not recognize the potential of this date!

1. 1846 5c, ATB. We always save the best for last. No doubt about it, the 1846 half dime is a cool little coin! However, apparently many in the coin market have a “bigger is better” mind-set and just don’t care for such small coins. Although the 1846 half dime has made considerable progress in recent years and has been recognized by numerous specialists as a key date, it still has a long way to go pricewise. A very long way. I give this coin top billing of the entire 1837-52 Seated subset because it has what I perceive as the greatest discrepancy between published prices and market value.

The PCGS price guide is on the right track as its postings across all grades are considerably higher than those in the CDNQ. Here are some dramatic stats for this rare but little-publicized issue:

* The 1846 as a date is the rarest regular mint issue of the entire “Stars” subseries of Seated half dimes; its mintage of 27,000 by far eclipses its runner-up, the 1838-O at 70,000, and all other Stars issues are in the hundreds of thousands or millions.

* THE 1846 IS RARER THAN MOST OF THE EARLY HALF DIMES, INCLUDING 1794, 1795, 1797, 1800 AND 1803, AND HAS LOWER PCGS/NGC POPS THAN THESE DATES IN MOST GRADES.

* Only three circulation strikes of 1846 have been certified by the leading grading services as mint state (and perhaps even these don’t represent three distinct coins!). This is the only collectible date in the entire Seated series that is practically unobtainable as a mintstate circulation strike. I have never seen one of the one, two or three PCGS/NGC certified MS coins, yet I have seen multiples of every other issue in the 1838-59 “Stars” subseries (including scans of two examples of 1853-O No Arrows). In fact, since 1991 the only references to a mint-state business strike of 1846 that I’ve noted were on the Globus Collection that sold in 1999 and the more recent sale of the Law Collection, but in neither case was there mention of whether these 1846 coins were certified as MS pieces. Maybe someone has better info on either of these coins.

* Even high-grade circulateds of 1846 are very tough to find … I note in GJ Issue 95 (3/06, p. 27) that the Frog Run Farm example of 1846 was an XF40 that sold for $2,990, while “Greysheet” is a mere $1,900. Now, I think even that was a bargain!

* A truly choice specimen of 1846 half dime is more likely to be represented by a Proof, of which only nine have been graded by PCGS/NGC, from an estimated Proof mintage of twenty.

* The 1846 half dime is rarer than either the “Orphan Annie” dime of 1844 or her “sister” of 1846, across nearly all grades.

* The 1846 half dime is a “Philadelphia-only” issue and has been classified into two distinct and easily understandable varieties: V-1 for business strikes and V-2 for Proofs.

* In the very informative write-up by Leonard Augsburger in GJ Issue 96 (7/06) of the Glenn B. Hoidale Collection of Seated half dimes, he mentions that 1846 was one date Hoidale was not successful in obtaining.

* Last but not least … in GJ Issue 92 (3/05), in John McCloskey’s article “The 20 Greatest Seated Coins”, where he tabulates the votes received for this survey, sixteen of the top twenty voted coins are dated later than 1852 (mostly in the 1870s). Only the very rare and highly publicized 1851 and 1852 dollars surpassed the 1846 half dime, which made 18th place on the list, in votes for coins within the 1837-52 range, and the 1846 half dime was the only coin in the 1840s that made the top 20.

Above are some of the reasons the 1846 half dime is in my opinion the most underpriced Seated coin of the 1837-52 era if we average out across all grades. The 1846 Proof is presently priced no higher than other Proof issues such as 1845 or 1847, which seems like a situation too good to be true! In mint state and proof, the price structure of the 1846 half dime is behind by as much as tens of thousands of dollars. I can think of no other Seated coin that today has the upside potential of the 1846 half dime. The bottom line is, the market makers need to recognize this coin the way the Seated specialists do!

The above dissertation has been based on a focused study of early Seated coinage conducted over a period of 16 years. I hereby welcome any comments, suggestions, stories of exciting 1837-52 finds or purchases such as those on my “Top 25” list, or any other feedback related to these or other Seated coins of the 1837-52 era. I would also like to hear whether anyone feels I’ve overlooked (no pun intended) an 1837-52 issue that they feel should have made my top 25 overlooked issues.

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