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1878-S Seated Liberty Half Dollar, MS63
1878-S 50C MS63 PCGS. Very small mintmark. With a mintage of
only 12,000 pieces struck and perhaps 50 examples in all grades
surviving today, the 1878-S is the recognized key to the Seated
Liberty half dollar series. It is a coin that is coveted and chased
in all grades by the many collectors who specialize in the series.
(Of the four minor silver denominations, we believe that the Seated
Liberty half dollar series likely has more collectors attempting
set completion, due to the larger size of the coins compared to the
quarters, dimes, and half dimes.)
Noteworthy Example of the Series Key
The introduction of the Morgan dollar in 1878 is part and parcel of the rarity of the 1878-S half dollars. As mandated by the Bland-Allison Act authorized on February 28, 1878, the Treasury Department was ordered to resume coinage of the silver dollar denomination, which had lapsed due to its omission from the legislation of 1873 known popularly as the "Crime of '73." The Bland-Allison act was nothing more than a sop to the increasingly powerful and wealthy mining interests in the West (and an artificial support for the price of domestic silver), but nonetheless many millions of Morgan dollars began flowing from the nation's coinage presses.
The San Francisco Mint struck some 4.16 million Trade dollars during 1878, along with nearly 10 million Morgan silver dollars, together approaching the 14 million-coin mark for silver dollar production. For comparison purposes, we note that the 1877-S Trade dollar emission was more than 9.5 million coins (Treasury Secretary John Sherman halted Trade dollar coinage in February, but San Francisco continued production until April). Clearly, the end of the Trade dollar coinage freed up resources for the Morgan dollar coinage in San Francisco.
But the Morgan dollar coinage also lessened the need for silver half dollars while taking away resources for their production as well. This was true in both Philadelphia and San Francisco. The P-mint half dollars of 1877 were struck to the extent of 8.3 million coins, compared to less than 1.4 million in 1878. In San Francisco, a glut of more than 5.3 million half dollars in 1877 gave way to the remarkably low 12,000 half dollars of 1878.
In any Mint State grade, the 1878-S becomes an even more noteworthy rarity. PCGS shows 13 submissions in Mint State: two in MS61, five in MS63 (including the present piece), four in MS64, and one each in MS65 and MS66 (2/14).
NGC submissions in Mint State total six only: one each in MS62 and MS63, two each in MS64 and MS65. Of these 19 pieces at both services, a handful can be discounted as duplications, leaving an estimated certified Mint State population of from 12 to 15 coins.
We find records of two fairly recent trades of the 1878-S half dollar in MS63 PCGS, both at Stack's Bowers: lot 7135 in August 2011 at $184,000, and lot 4245 in August 2013 at $164,500.
We recall well cataloging the last beautiful 1878-S at Heritage in MS64 PCGS, a coin that brought $184,000 in our Central States Signature (Heritage, 4/2009), lot 2476. Such a coin today would likely bring in more than $200,000.
The present MS63 PCGS example boasts rich, lovely toning in a range of hues from copper-orange to gold, violet, and lilac prevailing on both sides. The strike is quite sharp throughout both sides, and a small nick on Liberty's neckline near the left breast is unbothersome but will help to pedigree this piece in the future. Even in this remarkable and vast consignment of coins, this is one of those standout pieces that will enhance any collection in which it resides.
From the Collection of Donald E. Bently, sold for the benefit of the Bently Foundation.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 24KR, PCGS# 6360)
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The Draped Bust Half Dollars of 1796-1797 by Jon Amato is the culmination of more than 10 years of research into the Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollar series, one of the most coveted type coins in American numismatics and one about which remarkably little has been written.
This work will be the premier reference for 1796-1797 half dollars for years to come. Institutions having an extensive numismatic library or coin cabinet will find it a valuable complement to their holdings, and catalogers charged with writing up specimens for auction can now have an indispensable source of background and pedigree information. Likewise, coin dealers seeking to purchase one or more '96 or '97 half dollars for a client or for inventory, and collectors who own, have owned, or desire to own one will want this important reference work for their libraries.
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