In February of 1873, the San Francisco Branch Mint reportedly struck
700 Seated Liberty dollars, 5,000 Seated Liberty, No Arrows half
dollars and 324,000 Seated Liberty half dimes. After all of these
years, one of the last great mysteries of numismatics still remains.
What happened to those 700 1873-S dollars and 5,000 1873-S No Arrows
On Feb. 12, 1873, the Mint Act was passed that, among other effects,
would in part mark the end of the silver half dime and standard silver
dollar; added weight to the half dollar; and paved the way for the
Trade dollar. The legislation took effect on April 1.
For a generation of numismatic researchers it was assumed that all
of the 1873-S Seated Liberty dollars and half dollars were melted
before they left the San Francisco Mint. However, documents stored at
the Federal Archives in San Bruno, Calif., point to a different
scenario with regard to the fate of the 700 1873-S Seated Liberty dollars.
Made for trade
In September of 1872, 9,000 Seated Liberty dollars were coined. They
were made for both trade with China and to circulate at home. The
record books reveal that outside of the San Francisco Assaying and
Refining Works, which had a contract to refine both gold and silver
for the San Francisco Branch Mint, silver depositor after silver
depositor wanted Seated Liberty dollars. This demand for silver
dollars continued into January, February and early March of 1873. I
believe this was why 700 Seated Liberty dollars were reportedly struck
in February. They were needed to try to meet the demand for more dollars.
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Were the 700 Seated dollars reportedly struck in February of 1873
released? I think the answer is yes, and here’s why:
Each San Francisco Branch Mint depositor/deposit was assigned a
receipt number. This allows one to track each deposit from its
submittal to payout. However, there is generally no way to determine
exactly what denomination an individual depositor is requesting in
exchange for his bullion. In the case of the 1872-S and 1873-S Seated
Liberty dollars, the assayer provided the key.
Last deposit for dollars
In the Assayer’s Register of Silver Bullion Deposits, the assayer
used a $ symbol to note the deposits made specifically for Seated
Liberty dollars. By examining this record book along with the Register
of Certificates and Receipts for the Payment of Silver Deposits, the
9,000 Seated dollars struck in September of 1872 appear to have all
been paid out by mid-January or February of 1873.
In addition, the Journal of Bullion Deposits stated that all of the
silver depositors were paid in full for the first quarter of 1873.
Thus, I believe the 700 Seated Liberty dollars struck in February 1873
were all paid out.
On March 6, A. Holmes & Co., legal tenders and securities
dealers, made the last deposit for Seated dollars. Of note, reportedly
on March 7, a large shipment of silver foreign coins arrived at the
Carson City Branch Mint from San Francisco to be coined. For 1873, the
Carson City Branch Mint struck 2,300 Seated Liberty dollars and
122,500 Seated Liberty, No Arrows half dollars, both of which are
valued collectors’ items today.
One wonders if the San Francisco Branch Mint had suspended the
acceptance of silver bullion from the public for coinage until later
in the year. For the remainder of March, the San Francisco Assaying
and Refining Works, under the tutelage of L.A. Garnett, returned to
its dominant role as silver bullion depositor at the San Francisco
What about half dimes?
According to the Letters and Telegrams Received, (correspondence
between Director of the Mint Henry Richard Linderman and
Superintendent Oscar Hugh LaGrange, dated May 20 and June 3), all
324,000 1873-S Seated Liberty half dimes, or $16,200, were still on
hand at the San Francisco Mint. At some point, a sizeable portion of
these coins must have subsequently been paid out to San Francisco Mint
depositors, as they are available to collectors today.
So where are the 700 1873-S Seated Liberty dollars?
Numismatic scholar Tom DeLorey believes that if any of the 700
silver dollars were paid out to depositors in 1873, they may have been
dated 1872, and this would explain why no 1873-S pieces have surfaced.
In an email correspondence with the author he wrote the following:
“With regards to my theory of leftover 1872-S Seated dollars, the
1859-S (May 15,000; August 5,000) and 1872-S (September 9,000) Seated
dollar deliveries were in even multiples of 1,000 coins or one bagful.
“The way a Mint operates is that the coiner makes a random number of
planchets from the silver available, runs them through a coining
press, and ends up with a random number of good coins and spoiled coins.
“Of the random number of good coins, he makes up bags of a fixed
number of coins, in this case 1,000 silver dollars per bag, and
delivers them to the Cashier. He now has anywhere from 1 to 999 good
coins left over.
“At the end of a calendar year, these leftover good coins can get
carried over to the next year as bullion on hand, and then get
converted on the books as coins and aggregated with the earliest
production of the next year’s coinage of the same denomination, and bagged.
“So what happened to the hypothetical leftover 1872-S dollars? They
may have been carried over into 1873 as bullion in anticipation of
aggregating them in with possible 1873-S dollars. Then, when the
Coinage Act of 1873 discontinued the Standard Dollar denomination,
they could have converted them on the books into coins, and delivered
a nice round 700 of them to the Cashier for local use,” DeLorey concluded.
Is it possible a San Francisco Mint employee received or took home
an 1873-S Seated Liberty dollar?
Over the years there have been rumors of an 1873-S Seated Liberty
dollar or two linked to the relative of a Branch Mint employee, passed
down through the generations as a keepsake. This, of course, sounds
promising, given the fact that Abraham Curry, former superintendent of
the Carson City Branch Mint, along with two other folks including his
friend Mr. Rosser, placed what are now extremely rare 1873-CC Seated
Liberty dollars in the cornerstone of the Rosser building. The
ceremonial event was documented in the Carson Daily Appeal on April
18, 1873. These must be the three Uncirculated pieces that were
reportedly found in a Carson City cornerstone around 1973.
One could hope that a San Francisco Branch Mint employee, i.e., the
superintendent, would have saved a couple of 1873-S Seated Liberty
dollars for himself, a family member and/or a close friend to mark the
end of an era.
We do known that in 1874, a single 1873-S Seated Liberty dollar
survived the Assay Commission’s melting pot. For the first quarter of
1873, the San Francisco Mint sent a total of one Seated Liberty
dollar, one half dollar and 33 half dimes to the Philadelphia Mint for
weighing and assaying. Per guidelines, the Assay Commission examined
the coins a year later in February of 1874.
The Assay Committee melted the lone half dollar and documented its
fineness. When the time came to melt the group of coins en mass they
passed up the opportunity and wrote “not enough to melt.” Thus, that
single Seated Liberty dollar survived the examination.
For those of us with a little history and romance in our hearts,
there is a 1873-S Seated Liberty dollar out there still, perhaps the
assay coin, hidden somewhere awaiting discovery.
Editor’s note: At Coin World’s request, the U.S. Mint
searched its Heritage Assets to determine whether the missing coin is
among the Mint’s holdings. According to the Mint, it is not.
The author would like to thank Tom DeLorey for his assistance and
guidance with this article.
Roger Burdette was consulted regarding the Assay Commission and Mint
matters in general. American Numismatic Society librarian David Hill
supplied me with material that other researchers have published on the
1873-S Seated Liberty dollar and John Delmont assisted with the