Designed by Robert Scot, the half dollar had a composition of 89.24% silver and 10.76% copper.
The obverse design depicts an idealized head of Liberty facing right, with flowing hair secured by a ribbon and the inscription LIBERTY appearing above the bust surrounded by 15 stars, though some 1796 issues had 16 stars while 13 stars are found from 1801 issues on.
The 15 stars were representative of the number of states in the Union during that time. Mint director Elias Boudinot, realized that they couldn't go on adding stars so starting with the 1801 obverse only thirteen stars became the standard representation of the original founding states of the union.
The edge of the coin is lettered with the inscription FIFTY CENTS OR A HALF DOLLAR with decorations between the words.
The 1796 & 1797 issues have a reverse design that features a delicate or "small" eagle perched on a cloud, within an open olive wreath and the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (Type 1 Small Eagle).
From 1801 to 1807 the reverse was redesigned and features the Heraldic Eagle with arrows in one claw, an olive branch in the other and a banner in it's beak with the motto "E PLURIBUS UNUM". Above the eagle design are 13 stars with an arc of clouds above the stars and the words "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" (Type 2 Heraldic Eagle).
There were no mint marks as all the coins were minted at the Philadelphia mint.
General Market Notes
Few coins have survived over the years and have thus created a rarity among collectors today but not an impossible feat to obtain a low grade specimen of the Type 2 designs.
Type 1 issues are so rare that it is one of the greatest coins to acquire in a U.S. collection. These coins are so rare that even in a grade of Almost Good (AG) the cost are in the tens of thousands of dollars
For an affordable specimen look for 1803, 1805, or 1806 issues. These years had the largest mintage population of the series.
Warning: There were NO coins minted for circulation with the year 1804. Counterfeits have surfaced over the years only to be quickly exposed as fake.