This month my attention turns from Britannia to Lady Liberty in this second of three journal posts on coins displaying feminine seated national personifications.
The coin I selected for this months Coin of the Month is an NGC XF-40, 1853 arrows and rays, Seated Liberty Half-Dollar. I own several coins that include the Seated Liberty motif, but I picked this coin because of its significance as a type coin. To fill the arrows slot in my type set, I could have chosen any half-dollar dated 1853 to 1855, but the 1853 is the only date with a glory of rays emanating from the eagle on the reverse. Although the picture does not show it my coin also has a double die reverse. With a mintage of 3,532,708, this coin has a survival rate of only 6000 in all grades according to PCGS Coinfacts. Grading XF-40, this coin is affordable at $282 FMV. However, in AU-50, it rises to $540 and in MS-60 to $1440. With a PCGS Coinfacts survival rate of 30 in MS-65 and higher, this coin can fetch $23,440.
As an added bonus, this coin brings with it another story line. In the early 1850s, with an abundance of gold on the market from California, the intrinsic value of the gold dollar fell. This drop in value disrupted the established silver-to-gold ratio set at 16:1 by Congress in 1837. By 1853, the melt value of two half-dollars rose to $1.06 relative to one gold dollar. As a result, you could buy two half-dollars with one gold dollar, melt them down, and use the proceeds to purchase approximately 6% more in gold. Naturally, this easy money scheme caused a serious shortage of silver coins in the United States. It is estimated that in 1850 and 1851 alone, over 25 million dollars in silver coins disappeared from circulation. To bring the value of silver coins in line with the gold dollar, the weight of the half-dollar was reduced from 13.36 grams to 12.44 grams. To denote this reduction in weight one arrow on each side of the date appears on the obverse. On the reverse, rays emanating from the eagle were added. When the mint determined that the Arrows and Rays half-dollars were more expensive to produce, the rays were removed, and only the arrows appeared on coins dated 1854 and 1855. The reduction in weight of every silver denominated coin with the exception of the dollar worked. Now for the first time in our nations history, we had a sufficient supply of small silver coins for commerce.
It is amazing that after the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 the United Kingdom continued to influence our culture. This influence also reached into the halls of government and in particular, Mint Director Robert M. Patterson. Upon his appointment as director, Robert Patterson sought fundamental changes to the designs of our coinage using a seated likeness of Britannia as a pattern. For the artwork and drawings, Robert Patterson sought the services of artists Thomas Sully for the obverse and Titian Peale for the reverse. It is alleged that Thomas Sully used his daughter Blanche as a model on a sketch of Seated Liberty he presented to Mint Director Patterson for approval. Titian Peale used Pete, the Philadelphia Mints mascot bald eagle for his model of the flying eagle that graces the reverse of all Gobrecht Dollars. Finally, Christian Gobrecht as the chief engraver created the dies for the new Gobrecht Dollar based on Sullys Seated Liberty and Peales flying eagle in 1836.
The Seated Liberty motif first appeared on the half-dollar in 1839 and upon all our silver coinage from the half-dime to the dollar. As a design, the Seated Liberty motif was officially retired in 1891 after a remarkable run.
The obverse of my Coin of the Month displays a left facing image of Lady Liberty at rest, seated on a rock, and dressed in a Grecian garment called a chiton. Her right arm supports a Union Shield with the word liberty engraved across it. In her left hand, she holds a pole with a pileus or liberty cap atop it. As such, the imagery on this coin represents preparedness and freedom. Lady Liberty, seated, and at peace, appears to look over her shoulder alert and prepared for any threat to freedom that may come her way. The liberty cap, dating back to ancient Greece and Rome was given to liberated slaves as a sign of their freedom. In a ceremony proclaiming the former slaves freedom, a Roman praetor would touch the cheek of the one set free with a pole, thus giving significance to both the pole and the cap. The reverse of my coin features the heraldic eagle design of John Reich.
Upon its release, the Seated Liberty motif was an instant success with the American public espousing the virtues of freedom and liberty that we had fought so hard for to obtain. This message still resonates today on our coinage and in particular on the 2008 Van Burens Liberty First Spouse Coin.
This then concludes my March 2012 Coin of the Month post. Next month join me as I travel to the South American nation of Peru for the final post in this three part series. Until then, collect what you love and love what you collect!