|Seated Dollars From the Civil War
Most historians refer to the Civil War as The War Between the States but my Southern brethren still like to refer to it as The War of Northern Aggression. Regardless of the name used to identify this conflict, the Civil War was the most significant event in our nation’s history and dramatically altered the structure of human existence during the last half of the 19th century. I have had a lifelong interest in this historical period with family roots in the border state of Missouri and ancestors who fought on both sides of the conflict. As a numismatist my interest in the Civil War led me to study the business strike Seated dollars from 1861 to 1865 as part of the monetary system in a wartime economy. In this article I will provide some of the information that I have gathered on these issues over the years.
The Coinage Act of February 21, 1853 reduced the weight of the half dime, dime, quarter and half dollar so that their bullion value would not exceed their face value. The silver dollar continued to be struck at its old weight and was therefore the only silver coin worth more than its face value after 1853. These coins did not circulate and many were melted or exported as bullion. It should be noted that a dollar was a fairly large amount of money during the Civil War with a soldier’s pay at about $13 per month and a cattle drover’s pay at $30 per month until the 1880s. This relatively high value limited the number of dollars that were saved during a time when most of the collectors lived in the large Eastern cities where proof coinage was preferred.
The Treasury bags of silver dollars from the 1960s did not contain any Civil War dollars to my knowledge. This means that the number of available specimens for these dates would follow normal survival patterns and not be influenced by old hoards that were put aside during the 19th century. I believe that a normal survival rate for dollars of this period would be from 3% to 5%. The total mintage for the 1861 to 1865 dollars was 196,420. A minimum 3% survival rate for these five issues would imply that about 5900 Civil War dollars remain in the collector universe. The current total certified population by PCGS, NGC and ANACS for the five Civil War dates is 1119. A 3% survival rate would mean that roughly 19% of the surviving specimens have been encapsulated by the three grading services. I believe that this is a realistic percentage of encapsulation for these dates.
Table 1 gives the certified populations for Civil War dollars by grade. The table shows that the total number of certified pieces for all of the dates is roughly the same despite some differences in mintage. All of the dates show a limited number of pieces in the Good to Very Fine grades only because most of the lower grade pieces have not been submitted for encapsulation. There are fewer mint state pieces for the 1864 and 1865 dates but these issues also have more examples in the EF to AU grades. It is also interesting to note that the 1862 dollar has the highest number of certified specimens despite having the lowest mintage of the five Civil War dates.
Encapsulated Seated Dollars 1861 to 1865
Totals by Date and Grade for PCGS, NGC and ANACS Coins
Good-VF EF-AU Mint State
Date Mintage 4-35 40-58 60-70 Total
1861 78,500 22 90 109 221
1862 12,090 20 102 111 233
1863 27,660 31 97 92 220
1864 31,170 46 134 44 224
1865 47,000 38 128 55 221
Total 196,420 157 551 411 1119
A few additional comments are given below for each of these dates. Some information is also provided on the examples from the Legend Collection that contains some of the finest known coins in the Seated dollar series.
Mintage: 78,500. This date is more difficult to obtain than its mintage would seem to suggest. Examples often lack detail on Liberty’s head but the reverse typically has sharp detail through the eagle’s wings and shield. The example from the Legend Collection has been graded MS-64 and has been described as beautiful and frosty with warm golden brown toning about the periphery. Total number of certified pieces: 221.
Mintage: 12,090. This date has the lowest mintage of the Civil War period but it is more often available than its mintage would suggest. Examples usually show good detail on Liberty’s head and gown and the reverse typically has sharp detail through the eagle’s feathers and shield. The example from the Legend Collection has been graded MS-65 and has been described as a deeply toned gorgeous gem with warm rose centers surrounded by deep electric blue fields around the periphery. Total number of certified pieces: 233
Mintage: 27,660. This is probably the toughest date to obtain in the 1861 to 1865 series.
Examples are usually very well struck with sharp detail on both the obverse and reverse. The example from the Legend Collection has been graded MS-66 and has been described as a superior example with beautiful velvet mint frost on the devices. Total number of certified pieces: 220.
Mintage: 31,170. I have seen more low grade coins of this date than for any of the other four issues. Examples are usually well struck with sharp detail on both the obverse and reverse. The example from the Legend Collection has been graded MS-66 and has been described as a beautiful coin with nearly perfect fields and gorgeous luster. Total number of certified pieces: 224.
Mintage: 47,000. This date has the second highest mintage of this era and examples are normally available to the interested collector. Examples are usually well struck with sharp detail on both the obverse and reverse. This is the last of the no motto issues in the Seated dollar series. The example from the Legend Collection has been graded MS-65 and has been described as showing a light hint of golden toning with amazing mint bloom on nearly perfect surfaces. Total number of certified pieces: 221.
A final component to this article will be a pricing analysis for these five dates in the Civil War series. I have recorded the prices realized for 63 coins from these issues that have appeared in major auctions over the past three years. These pieces were all certified by PCGS, NGC or ANACS with grades from F-12 to MS-64 and they had an average grade of AU-51.4. The ANACS coins generally sold for somewhat less than the PCGS and NGC coins but I included them in an effort to increase the sample size for each of the dates. I compared the prices realized to the listed prices in Coin Values that are published monthly by Coin World. The listed prices in Table 2 are from the June 2006 issue of Coin Values while the final column gives the prices realized as compared to the listed prices in Coin Values.
Encapsulated Seated Dollars 1861 to 1865
Prices Realized Compared to Listed Prices in Coin Values
VF EF AU AU MS Percent of
Date 20 40 50 55 60 Coin Values
1861 $1000 $1500 $2000 $2500 $3000 91
1862 1000 1500 2000 2500 3200 97
1863 600 800 1500 2000 3000 97
1864 550 800 1500 2000 3000 108
1865 550 800 1500 2000 3000 99
The listed prices in Coin Values are taken as a pricing reference because virtually everyone has access to this information and this pricing guide is being used more frequently in the dealer community. Table 2 shows that all five dates are listed at about the same price in MS-60 while 1861 and 1862 dollars are listed at nearly double the price of 1863, 1864 and 1865 dollars in VF and EF. Overall the prices realized for the sample of 63 coins at major auctions agreed very well with the listings for all five dates. Specifically, the prices realized for 1861 dollars averaged out to 91% of the listed prices in Coin Values while the average prices realized was very close to the listed prices for 1862, 1863 and 1865 dollars. Only the 1864 dollar had an average prices realized in excess of Coin Values at 108% of the listed prices. In general the Coin Values listings are currently very good indicators of the prices realized for Civil War dollars.
I hope that the information provided for Civil War dollars will be useful in some purchasing decisions in the series.