US Coins

How to assemble a faux set of Seated Liberty coins

Similarities between the Seated Liberty double dime and quarter dollar doomed the 20-cent coin, but those same look-alike qualities can be useful if there’s an expensive hole in your set.

Original images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts.

Home Hobbyist column from Oct. 31, 2016, Weekly issue of Coin World:

I have always found the Seated Liberty 20-cent coin to be an orphan denomination — something that should have been popular in a decimal system — were it not for the old Spanish dollar, or peso, being worth 8 reales and cut up and used for commerce in the American Colonies.

Instead of “double dimes” or 20-cent coins, we ended up with the 25-cent “two-bit” coin being dubbed the workhorse of U.S. commerce. “Two bits” comes from the practice of cutting the Spanish peso into reales, two of them being, hence, a quarter dollar.

The Seated Liberty 20-cent coin was produced between 1875 and 1878. 

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A well-heeled hobbyist can assemble a set of Proof 20-cent coins for about $15,000. The Proof-only 1877 (mintage 300) and 1878 (mintage 600) coins are keys.

Circulation strikes were produced only in 1875 and 1876. 

Assembling a set of circulation strikes, however, is nearly impossible for almost every collector because of the rarity of the 1876-CC coin. 

The American public disliked the 20-cent coin, confusing it with the quarter dollar. Thus, the U.S. Mint terminated the denomination, with nearly all of the 10,000 Carson City Mint coins minted that year melted, apart from about 12 to 20 that survived.

A PCGS Mint State 64 1876-CC Seated Liberty 20-cent coin realized $470,000 at auction in 2014.

A set of Uncirculated 20-cent coins (1875, 1875-CC, 1875-S, and 1876) can run about $8,000 to $10,000 in low Mint State. For another grand or so, you can add the 1876-CC quarter dollar instead, and create a “faux” (or false) set.

Few people at first glance will tell the difference. A 20-cent coin’s weight is 5 grams and its diameter, 22 millimeters. The quarter dollar is 6.3 grams in weight and 24.3 millimeters in diameter. 

The obverse of both 20- and 25-cent coin features “Seated Liberty” on a rock with liberty pole and Phrygian cap. The reverse eagles are similar, too, though the 20-cent coin’s eagle faces right and the 25-cent coin’s eagle faces left, with a banner for the motto “In God We Trust.” The 20-cent coin has a plain edge; the quarter dollar’s is reeded.

The fun of a faux set is asking others to tell the difference in design. You can assemble a Very Fine faux set for about $1,500, with the 1875-CC 20-cent coin costing much of that amount (about $500 to $700).

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