The Seated Liberty 20-cent coin was produced as a circulation
strike for only two years, 1875 and 1876 (although production of Proof
pieces continued in 1877 and 1878).
The size and design of the 20-cent coin confused the public
because of the similarity to the quarter dollar, leading to the quick
demise of the denomination.
The quarter dollar owes its existence to the Spanish dollar, or
peso, worth 8 reales. The peso was used in commerce in the American
Colonies and also for a time after the U.S. Mint began producing coins
in the 1790s.
To this day, the 25-cent coin — a nondecimal denomination — is
known as “two bits” because the peso was often cut into eight equal
pieces, each called a “bit.”
It seems any coin similar in size to the quarter dollar is doomed.
Consider the ill-fated Anthony dollar of 1979 to 1981 and 1999. Like
the double dime, this small-diameter coin confused the public.
Many home hobbyists collect quarter dollars, especially since
Congress has devised programs such as the 50 State Quarters, the
District of Columbia and U.S. territories quarters, and America the
Beautiful quarter dollars.
Perhaps that is why collectors might want to consider the
short-lived but all-American 20-cent coin.
I own one 20-cent type coin. All issues are rare or scarce, even
the more common 1875-S 20-cent coin, which had a mintage of 1,155,000,
with an estimated 25,000 surviving to this day.
Other mintages and estimated survival rates for 20-cent
circulation strikes are:
1875 (36,910; 4,500).
1875-CC (133,290; 6,500).
1876 (14,640; 3,000).
1876-CC (10,000; 19).
The 1876-CC Seated Liberty 20-cent coin is the key to the series,
but it is doubtful that many home hobbyists can afford one. In 2009 an
1876-CC 20-cent coin graded Mint State 66 was sold for $460,000 by
In terms of survival, it is right up there with the 1913 Liberty
Head 5-cent coin and the 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle.
Like the 1933 $20 double eagle, the entire run of 1876-CC 20-cent
pieces was ordered melted by the government. (Surviving specimens of
1876-CC 20-cent coins are legal to own, however.)
As such, the 20-cent coin is both one of the greatest rarities and
bargains of numismatics.
Consider that about 50,000 surviving examples of the coveted
1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent survive, twice as many as the 1875-S
20-cent coin. The 1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent costs about $850 in Very
Good 12, as opposed to $150 for an 1875-S Seated Liberty 20-cent piece
in the same grade.
Now that’s a steal!
Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor
at Iowa State University and also a member of the Citizens Coinage
Advisory Committee. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.