Description and Analysis

Seated Liberty Half Dollars
1878 50C MS

Description & Analysis

The massive production of fractional silver coins that occurred 1875-77 had the unintended effect of creating a redundancy of small silver. This was aggravated by the ever-falling price of silver during that decade, which brought out of hiding millions of earlier issues that had been hoarded or exported during the years of depreciated paper money that commenced in 1862. While many writers have claimed that the onset of heavy silver dollar coinage in 1878 overworked the mints to the point that they were unable to make more fractional silver coins, this is not what put the brakes on half dollar production that year. The fact was that there were already too many coins in Treasury vaults, and they were in violation of an 1875 law which limited the total value of fractional silver and fractional paper in circulation to 50 million dollars. A demand for additional half dollars would not appear until 1891, the final year of the Seated Liberty type.

The 1878(P) half dollar is not a rare or even scarce coin in overall numbers, but it is less often seen than Philadelphia Mint halves dated 1875-77. Many examples have incomplete strikes, and gems (MS-65 and higher) are rare.

The 1993 Wiley-Bugert book reported six die marriages consisting of five obverse and six reverse dies. More will likely appear when the Bugert Die Registry for Philadelphia halves of this period is published. Three collar gauges are known, these having 152, 153 and 156 reeds, respectively.