What year is the rarest dollar coin?

Determining the rarest dollar coin is no easy task. With hundreds of variations minted over the last 200+ years, collectors have a vast range of dollar coins to choose from. Rarity depends on factors like mintage, demand from collectors, and condition. While the 1804 silver dollar is perhaps the most famous rare dollar coin, other dates can give it a run for its money when it comes to value and elusiveness.

Quick Answer

The rarest regular issue business strike dollar coin is widely considered to be the 1870-S Seated Liberty dollar. Only 12 were ever minted, and only 9 are known to still exist.

Dollar coins have been minted in the United States since 1794. Over the centuries, numerous designs and denominations have come and gone as each era’s trends shaped what was in circulation. Today, while the ubiquitous greenback is still king, dollar coins continue to be minted for collectors and some commercial uses.

Rarity within any coin series results from two key factors – mintage and survival rate. Simply put, the lower the original mintage and the smaller percentage of coins remaining, the greater the rarity. Demand is also a driver, as collectors will pay more for coins perceived as scarce and valuable.

The history of US dollar coins provides many examples of low mintage coins worth a premium. But one issue stands above all others as the lowest mintage business strike dollar, and therefore can reasonably be considered the rarest regular issue: the 1870-S Seated Liberty dollar.

A Brief History of the Dollar Coin

Before exploring the story behind the 1870-S dollar, let’s take a quick tour through the history of the denomination:

  • 1794-1803 – Flowing Hair and Draped Bust dollars were the young nation’s first official dollar coins.
  • 1840-1865 – Seated Liberty dollars bearing the motto “In God We Trust” were introduced.
  • 1871-1878 – The same Seated Liberty design without the motto.
  • 1878-1904, 1921 – Morgan dollars bearing an image of Lady Liberty were minted across multiple decades.
  • 1921-1935 – The Peace dollar commemorating the end of World War I.
  • 1971-1974, 1977-1978, 1999-2000, 2012 to present – Eisenhower, Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea and Presidential dollars have been minted more recently.

While many rare dates can be found within these series, a few standouts deserve special distinction.

Key Rarities

  • 1804 Silver Dollar – 15 Known Examples – By far the most famous rarity. Only 15 genuine 1804 silver dollars are known to still exist. They were actually struck decades later to be included in special presentation sets, but are dated 1804.
  • 1870-S Seated Liberty Dollar – 9 Known Examples – The lowest mintage business strike dollar ever issued, with just a dozen coins struck.
  • 1895 Morgan Dollar – 12 Known Examples – The 1895 Philadelphia Morgan is the ultimate key date of the series, with a mintage of just 880,000.
  • 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle – 1 Legal Example – Originally 20 were minted, but most were melted after the US went off the gold standard. Only 1 is legally owned.

While there are other notable rarities like the 1873-CC Seated dollar with a mintage of 700 and the 1879 Coiled Hair Stella dollar pattern with a mintage of 425, the 1870-S has a strong claim as the rarest regular issue business strike dollar coin.

1870-S Seated Liberty Dollar

The Seated Liberty dollar was minted from 1840 through 1873, ending with the Coinage Act of 1873 that demonetized silver. But in 1870, amidst that long span of production, something very unusual happened at the San Francisco mint.

For reasons unknown, mint employees struck 12 dollars dated 1870-S, a date not meant for circulation. Refining records show workers used three leftover 1867-S dies to strike the coins. The timing makes their origin especially mysterious since by 1870, Seated dollars were rarely used in commerce.

The story might have ended there with the coins melted down as unknown oddballs. But fortunately for collectors, a mint employee must have recognized the rarity and value of his work. All 12 left the mint, trading hands over the years with noted numismatists like Virgil Brand.

Today, 9 of the original 12 are confirmed to still exist. Two traceable coins were sadly melted down, while the final piece has unknown whereabouts. The surviving coins are held in museums like the Smithsonian and major private collections. The finest known example last sold in 2005 for $1,092,500.

1870-S Dollar Quick Facts

  • Mint Location – San Francisco
  • Mintage – 12 coins struck
  • Survivors – 9 coins known
  • Highest Auction Record – $1,092,500 (Heritage, 2005)
  • Large-Size Diameter – 38.1mm
  • Composition – 90% silver, 10% copper
  • Obverse Design – Seated Liberty by Christian Gobrecht
  • Reverse Design – Eagle with shield and motto “In God We Trust”

The keys to its rarity are the tiny original mintage of a dozen coins and the very limited number of surviving pieces. With only single digit specimens available to collectors, the 1870-S rightfully earns its place as the rarest regular issue business strike dollar.

Other Rare Dollars

While the 1870-S stands alone, there are a number of other regular issue dollars with very low mintages that command high prices:

Key Date Seated Liberty Dollars

  • 1851 – 1,300 minted – A popular low mintage date from the early Seated dollar series. Even well-worn examples are worth 4 figures.
  • 1852 – 1,100 minted – Another early date Seated dollar with tiny production numbers.
  • 1858 – 358 minted – The lowest mintage for a Seated dollar intended for circulation. Just a bit more available than the 1870-S.

Key Date Morgan Dollars

  • 1885-CC – 228,000 minted – The rarest Carson City Morgan dollar. Mint records show far fewer coins struck than other dates.
  • 1892-S – 1,200,000 minted – The lowest mintage Morgan from the San Francisco mint. Even circulated pieces are worth a premium.
  • 1893-S – 100,000 minted – Lowest mintage business strike in the Morgan series. Only a microscopic number were preserved in top grades.
  • 1895 – 880,000 minted – The 1895 Philadelphia coin is considered the absolute key date of the series. Only 12 exist today.

These low mintage coins certainly aren’t cheap! But they are at least obtainable for serious collectors, unlike the virtually unobtainable 1870-S dollar.

Rarest Modern Dollars

Early dollar coins aren’t the only ones with keys dates and important rarities:

Eisenhower Dollars (1971-1978)

  • 1974-D – 2,612,568 minted – By far the lowest mintage for the copper-nickel clad series. Most were melted, creating high demand from collectors.

Anthony Dollars (1979-1981, 1999)

  • 1981-S – Proof – 4,063,083 minted – Far and away the scarcest modern proof Anthony dollar.
  • 1999-P – 757,130 minted – The lowest mintage Anthony dollar, struck more than 15 years after the series ended.

Sacagawea Dollars (2000 to present)

  • 2000-P – 613,300 minted – The introductory Sacagawea dollars had a very limited mintage compared to later issues. Two varieties were struck, making collecting a challenge.

These newer dollars have the advantages of modern manufacture – few are worn or damaged. But they are younger rarities without the intriguing backstories of earlier dollars.

Grading Rare Coins

Condition is critically important when determining a rare coin’s value. There’s an enormous difference between a lightly-worn example and one preserved in pristine condition. Two coins struck from the same dies can be worth vastly different amounts based solely on wear and marks.

Certification services like PCGS and NGC provide objective, expert assessments of a coin’s physical condition. Coins are graded on a numeric scale from 1 through 70. The higher the number, the better state of preservation.

Grading Scale

  • MS/PR 70 – Perfect condition
  • MS/PR 60-69 – Uncirculated/Proof with increasingly better eye appeal
  • MS/PR 50-58 – Lightly circulated but without distracting marks
  • MS/PR 1-49 – Heavy wear that impacts design details

For rare coins like the 1870-S dollar where so few exist, the difference between an MS60 and MS65 grade can mean a six figure price increase at auction. Preservation makes an enormous impact on the value of rare coins.

Counterfeits and Forgeries

With many rare dollars worth 5, 6 or even 7 figures, counterfeiters are eager to cash in. Advanced technologies make it possible for fakes to closely replicate the appearance of genuine coins.

Collectors must exercise caution and lean on expert opinions when acquiring important rarities. Reputable certification services can detect even clever fakes in many cases. Buying coins slabbed and graded from established companies helps give buyers confidence in authenticity.

For high-value coins, further services like CAC verification and provenance research provide additional comfort around legitimacy and history. An unusual holder, inconsistent wear or toning, and odd details are signs that may indicate counterfeiting.

As the old adage advises, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Seeking multiple expert opinions and provenance information can help avoid falling victim to counterfeits.

The Thrill of the Hunt

The search for rare coins like the 1870-S Seated dollar is a lifelong journey for many numismatists. The challenge drives interest, with the hope of new discoveries still possible decades or even centuries after coins were struck.

No other dollar can claim the intrigue and elusiveness of the 1870-S. From the mystery of its origin and purpose to the excitement around future appearances at auction, the “king” of Seated dollars continues to fascinate collectors across generations.

While not many can aspire to own this ultimate rarity, the thrill of the hunt lies in uncovering your own uncommon coins. Perhaps an 1893-S Morgan with untoned surfaces, or a lustrous 1852 resting undiscovered in an old collection. There are still treasures waiting to be found by diligent and passionate collectors!


The 1870-S Seated Liberty dollar, with just a dozen struck and only 9 surviving examples, is unquestionably the rarest regular issue business strike dollar. Low mintage coins like the 1858 Seated dollar and 1893-S Morgan dollar come close. But none can match the elusiveness of the 1870-S.

This enigmatic issue was produced in small numbers for unknown reasons at the San Francisco mint. The timing during the twilight years of the series only adds to the mystery. A coin as important as the 1870-S will continue to generate collector intrigue and massive auction prices each time an example surfaces.

While collecting the absolute rarest coins is an exclusive pursuit, there are many key date US dollars that can be obtained by dedicated hobbyists. Building a collection over time and uncovering forgotten rarities provides immense satisfaction. Dollar coins remain a popular and historically significant series offering opportunities for collectors at every level.

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