Many collectors want a rare date at a bargain price. I happen to be among that group, but I am not very impressed when I read what others suggest are sleepers.
There are a lot of coins around today that are cheap based on their mintages, but I want them to be three things: cheap based on their mintages, historic, and in very short supply based on numbers seen at major grading services.
That combination is a lot harder to find, but one good example is the 1860-S Seated Liberty quarter. Let’s start with the fact that it had a mintage of just 56,000.
That total happens to be lower than the 1901-S Barber quarter, which is currently priced at $4,900 in G4 condition. But you can get the 1860-S in G4 for $1,000, which seems like an awfully good deal based mintage alone.
However, the 1860-S is still a product of the distant past. It was actually made in that second-rate shack called the San Francisco mint, which at the time was a health hazard with acid fumes causing the workers to get sick.
They also could not hear because of the noise level inside, and cramped conditions did not help, either. Officials were asking Washington for a better facility From the start, but Washington was not terribly interested in what was going on in San Francisco.
That said, the facility was a true relic of the Gold Rush. It had been the Moffat building, and the equipment was basically used as well.
It might not have been modern or comfortable, but a good case can be made that any coin that emerged from it was rich in the history not only of the Gold Rush but also of early California.
We also need to consider the amount of saving taking place at the time. The wildest days of the Gold Rush were over, but there was no mistaking San Francisco in the 1860s for Paris in the 1920s. It was still a fairly wild and not-all-that elegant place. Moreover, it was not the hub of coin collecting.
No one collected by date and mint anyway; what collecting there was generally was done by date, which could be done with coins from Philadelphia.
We see evidence regularly that not many people were collecting at San Francisco during this time. Many San Francisco dates are rare or even unknown in Mint State. The few Mint State examples are thanks not to collectors of the day but to shipwrecks. As a result, it should come as no surprise that the 1860-S is currently listed at $16,000 in AU50 and $55,000 in MS60 but goes unpriced in higher grades.
Prices are nice, mintages are as well, and historically interesting coins are even better, but the real bottom line for any coin is how many exist today. There, the 1860-S Seated Liberty quarter moves from just being a good value to potentially being a great one.
The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation currently reports having seen precisely 22 examples of the 1860-S, with none called Mint State. Taking into account the 370 examples of the 1901-S Barber quarter reported by NGC shows how tough the 1860-S really is.
By comparison, the Professional Coin Grading Service reports having seen 92 examples of the 1860-S, with just one called Mint State in MS61. The PCGS total for the 1901-S Barber quarter, however, is 918.
Does the fact that the two major grading services have seen 114 examples of the 1860s-S between them make it a great rarity? Probably not, as there may be a few more out there. But acquiring an example may be one of the great buys today.
Comparing the 1860-S Seated Liberty quarter to any number of key and very expensive coins, we come to just one conclusion: if you can find someone willing to sell an example, it’s a great opportunity and one you should take advantage of immediately.
There may not be enough demand to cause the 1860-S to soar in price, but there are few enough available to see it do anything besides continue to climb higher and higher.