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1864 Liberty Seated Silver Dollar

Author: Stack's Bowers Galleries / Thursday, May 02, 2013 / Categories: Answers for the Avid Collector

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Question: I have some questions for your concerning the 1864 Liberty Seated silver dollar. I have an example in Very Good grade. How does this issue compare with others in the series with regard to rarity? Why did Liberty Seated silver dollars not circulate in the United States during the Civil War? Were most minted during the war sent overseas, and if so, where did they go and did they ever come back? – T. T.

Answer: The Treasury Department suspended specie payments (the paying out of coined silver and gold) early in the Civil War, for such items were being hoarded and would not have circulated effectively. As the Civil War progressed, gold and silver coins were not to be seen in circulation and eventually copper-nickel cents disappeared as well. In 1863, gold and silver coins were worth considerably more than face value in terms of federal “greenback” notes.

Two main fates befell silver and gold coins minted during the Civil War. Addressing the 1864 silver dollar directly, there were 30,700 business strikes made. None of these was put into circulation at the time, so far as I know. They were either stored by the Treasury Department (for release years later in the 1870s) or were used by the government in settlement for overseas and other foreign transactions. Toward the end of the Civil War there was a glut of American silver coins in Canada, for example. Many of them had been sent there to pay for things or had circulated there earlier and no one wanted to redeem them at face value for American currency.

It is my guess that most of the United States silver coins sent overseas never returned to America but were eventually melted down as bullion. It is probable that coins in nearby Canada were redeemed after the war ended and the monetary situation stabilized.

As your 1864 silver dollar shows extensive wear, I surmise that it was probably stored by the Treasury Department until the early 1870s, then released into circulation, where it saw hard service, most likely in the American West, as silver dollars circulated very little in the East. Concerning the rarity of your coin, it is indeed rare. Uncirculated coins are rarer than those in Very Good. In general, circulation strikes of worn Liberty Seated silver dollars of the middle and late Civil War years (1862 to 2865) are seldom seen.