Friday, July 6, 2012

History of the Seated Half Dollars (1839 - 1891)


1859 Seated Liberty Half Dollar
The Gobrecht Liberty Seated design, adopted first for silver dollars, was extended to half dollars in 1839. It was said that the half dollar was the only denomination that remained loyal to the Sully-Gobrecht design without drastically changing the original. The Seated Liberty Half Dollar underwent a couple of stages along the years. Thus we have five Varieties of this type: Variety 1 with No Motto, Variety 2 with Arrows and Rays, Variety 3 with Arrows and No Rays, Variety 4 with Motto, and Variety 5 with Arrows. All varieties show Miss Liberty on the obverse, sitting on a rock and holding a shield in her right hand. The shield displays the word LIBERTY on it. In her left hand, Liberty has a stick with a cap on top. Miss Liberty is surrounded by 13 stars, a theme reoccurring on many U.S. coins. On the reverse, a majestic eagle holds an olive branch and arrows in its claws. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is at the top and HALF DOL. at the bottom.The first obverse issues show no extra drapery at crook of elbow, while later issues until 1891 have a small patch below it. Because of the discover of gold in California and the shipment of silver coins to the West Indies and Latin America, survivors of early Seated Liberty halves are very scarce, especially in good condition. All dates in the Variety I No Motto are very rare, especially in high grades. That's why collectors of Seated Liberty Half Dollars might find it challenging to find the coins they seek for this denomination. For the first year of issue, mint-state survivors are extremely rare and proofs quite extinct.

Withing the first variety with No Motto above the eagle, there are different types: some first-year halves have small letters in legend (1839-1841), the 1840 came with medium letters, and starting 1841 the halves displayed large letters on the reverse. No reason has been found for the change to large letters. In 1853, the Mint lowered the weight of silver half dollars and issued the Seated Liberty with Arrows at the date and Rays around the eagle on the reverse. Only the Philadelphia and the New Orleans mints issued the new 1853 Seated Liberty halves. Then, in 1854, Mint Director James Ross Snowden ordered the engravers to issue quarters and half dollars with no rays around the eagle, but keep the arrows at the date (Variety 3 - Arrows, No Rays). It was thought that his decision was taken because adding rays somehow weakened working dies. He also tried to save additional costs.

From 1856 to 1866, the half dollars were issued with no rays and no arrows at date, resuming the Variety 1. With the Civil War dominating the country, many coins including half dollars were either buried in the ground or shipped overseas. That's why coins dating this period are rare, with 1866 S No Motto being the rarest of them, in all grades. Variety 4 Seated Liberty halves were first issued in 1866 after the approval of the Act of March 3, 1865 mandating the addition of the motto to all silver coins above the dime. Thus, the half dollar displayed the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, placed above the eagle on the reverse. The early 1873 halves show the 3 almost closed. Since it could have been mistaken for an 8, the Mint ordered new date logotypes with open 3. The changes affecting the Seated Liberty Half didn't stop here. Later in 1873, a new Mint Act mandated the addition of a distinguishing mark to identify coins at the new weights. For this reason arrows at date were added to the half dollars in 1873. So starting 1873 until 1874, the half dollar displayed both arrows at date and motto on the reverse. Again starting in 1875 until the end of this type, the seated liberty half dollar display no arrow at date - an arbitrary decision taken by the mint director to remove again the arrows.

Buy Seated Liberty Half Dollars in different grades and condition from the Executive Coin Company, one of the top coin dealers in United States. Our selection includes early date half dollars with Drapery and No Motto, examples of the variety with arrows at date and rays around the eagle, Seated half dollars with Motto and others. We also offer half dollars in high grades. All coins we display are expertly photographed with great care and accuracy to help you make the best choice for your unique coin collection! Check out our online selection below.