February 19, 2021
What Is an 1856 Mint Set? We recently did a little video on Instagram regarding this topic and thought it would make a good blog post, with a bit more expanded detail. We love writing and coins anyway, and these posts give us a chance to do two of our favorite things at once.
In the first place, the Mint certainly did not issue “mint sets,” the way collectors currently think of them (as one or two Uncirculated examples of every denomination and mint for a given year), until 1947.
But an 1856 Mint Set, for purposes of our blog and for the PCGS Set Registry, would be one example of each date, mintmark, and denomination produced during 1856. Hopefully Uncirculated.
The year 1856 was a banner year for coinage at the nation’s mints. The Arrows/Arrows and Rays motifs that had prevailed from 1853–1855 were removed, and not only Philadelphia but four branch mints—Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, and San Francisco—were striking coins. Gold only in the case of Charlotte and Dahlonega (which never struck silver coins), gold and silver in New Orleans and San Francisco, and a whole plethora of issues at the Mother Mint in Philadelphia.
The San Francisco Mint was a newly built facility in full stride in its third year of operation in 1856, coining abundant local supplies of gold. That was the first year that the facility struck silver Seated Liberty dimes and the unloved quarter eagle, and San Francisco even struck Type Two gold dollars in 1856, the only S-mint Type Twos. All five operating mints struck half eagles, a workhorse denomination, but the Western facility managed to produce a total larger than the other three branch mints combined. Here are the denominations struck with mintage figures and some key varieties:
Braided Hair Half Cent. 40,430 pieces struck.
Braided Hair Large Cent. 2.69 million pieces. Vars. Upright 5; Slanting 5.
Flying Eagle Cent. A pattern, struck to show Congress how the new coin would look. Other proof pieces were made for collectors. It is believed that from 1,500 to 2,000 pieces were struck. Collected today alongside the circulation Flying Eagle issues due to its early and widespread popularity.
Three Cent Silver. 1.46 million.
Liberty Seated Half Dime (Type Two Resumes, No Arrows, 1856–1859). 1856 4.88 million; 1856-O 1.10 million, rare MS.
Liberty Seated Dime (Type Two Resumes, No Arrows, 1856–1860). 1856 5.78 million, vars. Large Date (est. mintage 150,000) rare MS, Small Date; 1856-O 1.18 million, vars. Medium O, Large O, both v. rare MS, Medium O more so; 1856-S 70,000, rare XF, ext. rare MS, key to Type Two (Stars Obverse) dimes along with 1859-S.
Liberty Seated Quarter, No Arrows (1856–1872). 1856 7.26 million; 1856-O 968,000, rare AU; 1856-S 286,000, vars. Regular S, Large S Over Small S, ext. rare MS.
Liberty Seated Half Dollar. 1856 938,000; 1856-O 2.66 million; 1856-S 211,000.
Liberty Seated Silver Dollar. 63,500.
Indian Princess Gold Dollar, Type Two (Small Head). 1856-S, 24,600 pieces.
Indian Princess Gold Dollar, Type Three (Large Head). 1856 1.763 million plus 10–15 proofs (all of the Slanting 5 style), all kinds, vars. Upright 5, Slanting 5; 1856-D 1,460.
Liberty Head Quarter Eagle. 1856 384,240; 1856-C 7,913; 1856-D 874, 1856-O 21,100; 1856-S 72,120.
Indian Princess Three Dollar. 1856 26,010; 1856-S 34,500, vars. Small S, scarce; Medium S.
Liberty Head Half Eagle. 1856 197,990; 1856-C 28,457; 1856-D 56,413; 1856-O 10,000; 1856-S 105,100.
Liberty Head Eagle. 1856 60,490; 1856-O 14,500; 1856-S 68,000.
Liberty Head Double Eagle. 1856 329,878; 1856-O 2,250; 1856-S 1.190 million.
So there you have it. This is a wonderful set, but one that I will never complete, and certainly not in Mint State! The 1856-O double eagle is the real stopper, but several of the branch mint gold pieces are also extremely elusive in Mint State. And the 1856 Flying Eagle cent is no slouch, either, although we have owned a few of those in our long career (the one above is no longer ours and not for sale by us). If you add all the varieties as well as all denominations and mints, you will be up well over three dozen coins. Get to work!