US Coins

S-Mint coins available in July Scotsman auction

Some wonderful examples of scarce issues from the San Francisco Mint are among the top lots at Scotsman’s July 19 Midwest Summer Sale at the Saint Charles Convention Center in metropolitan St. Louis. Perhaps the most exciting is an 1878-S Seated Liberty half dollar graded Very Good 8 by Numismatic Guaranty Co.

Each of the 12,000 coins minted was struck from a single die pair, and all bear the same diagnostic raised lump at the top left of the first open stripe on the reverse shield.

The low half dollar mintage is ascribed to the need to strike the new Morgan dollars after the passage of the Bland-Allison Act, which re-established the dollar-sized coin and required the U.S. Treasury to make significant purchases of silver.

PCGS CoinFacts estimates that just 50 remain in all grades, while Bill Bugert’s A Register of Liberty Seated Half Dollar Varieties, Volume I, San Francisco Branch Mint, is a bit more optimistic in estimating 60 survivors. Most examples show evidence of wear, and all 1878-S half dollars have 147 reeds on the edge, different from the edge reeding used at the other mints that year and a useful attribute, since examples are known with a false San Francisco S Mint mark.

The rarity of the issue was recognized early, and Augustus G. Heaton remarked in his 1893 book Mint Marks, which popularized collecting by U.S. Mint, that with the “1878 we have the great rarity of the San Francisco half dollar coinage.”

The Scotsman example has stronger details than perhaps expected for the grade, though the cataloger writes, “some detriments including ancient, toned-in circulation scratches net the grade to VG-8 per NGC.” The description observes “very dry surfaces with curiously hazy patina in the lower lying areas, while higher relief areas display some smoothness from wear,” and while “a trivial, linear abrasion flings far to either side of the obverse,” a “disturbance can be found around the left side of the scroll.” It carries an estimate of $38,000 to $42,000.

Gem 1927-S quarter

The 1927-S issue in the Standing Liberty quarter dollar series is a better date, having a low mintage of 396,000 pieces, with only the 52,000-coin mintage of 1916 being lower. Consistent with other San Francisco Mint issues of the era, examples with a full strike are unusual, and although graded Mint State 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service, this one lacks a Full Head designation.

PCGS uses three elements to determine its FH designation on the 1917 to 1930 quarter dollars: the helmet shows three complete and distinct leaves, a complete outline on the bottom of the helmet is seen, and a clear ear hole on Miss Liberty’s head is present. The offered quarter shows some lack of definition in the central part of the head, but the details are stronger than often seen.

The cataloger notes, “This example was taken off of clashed dies and probably had little to no chance of receiving a full strike, but it also did not take on a scoop head as is frequently seen for the date.” Some ticks below the Y in LIBERTY on the obverse are recorded, though “fabulous satin luster predominates, endowed with a pleasing level of eggshell white hue, splashed with occasional bronze-gold around the eagle,” and it carries a top estimate of $12,000.

Depression-era ‘nickel’

The 1931-S Indian Head 5-cent piece is a Great Depression era condition-rarity in very top grades. Its modest mintage of 1,200,000 coins makes it second only to the 1926-S issue as the lowest-mintage issue of the series. Despite the low production, Mint State survivors of the 1931-S coin were saved in some quantities at the time of issue and even MS-65 examples can be found for under $300 with some looking. NGC has graded only nine in MS-67, however, including the offered example, with none finer.

The cataloger praises the bold luster and high-quality planchet, writing, “the phenomenal eye-appeal is the result of a combination of incredible preservation, sensational toning and a borderline ideal pattern.” The toning certainly is pretty, with peripheral rainbow tones, and as a visual comparable, the Scotsman cataloger cites a different but similarly graded PCGS example with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, suggesting, “this might actually be a slightly nicer example.”

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