Designed by Christian Gobrecht, the half dollar had a composition of 90% silver and 10% copper.
The obverse design depicts an idealized form of Lady Liberty clad in a flowing dress and seated upon a rock. In her left hand, she held a pole surmounted by a liberty cap, which had been a pre-eminent symbol of freedom. Liberty's right hand rests on the top corner of a striped shield with a diagonal banner inscribed with the word LIBERTY. The shield represented preparedness in the defense of freedom. Surrounding the design were Seven stars are to the left and six to the right (13 stars were representative of the original 13 states of the Union).
The reverse design features an eagle holding an olive branch in one claw and arrows in the other. On the outer periphery above the eagle is the legend "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" and just below the eagle design are the words HALF DOL. A mint mark for New Orleans (O), San Francisco (S) or Carson City (CC) is located at the bottom of the design below the eagle's claws. Coins minted at the Philadelphia mint carried no mint marks.
Though only one type coin is available for the series, there are quite a few of major varieties one can pursue to expand a collection.
- Variety 1 1839 No Drapery Obverse
- Variety 2 1839-1853 With Drapery, weight 13.36 grams (0.3867 ounces of silver)
- Variety 3 1853 Arrows at Date, Rays around Eagle on reverse, weight 12.44 grams (0.36 ounces of silver)
- Variety 4 1854-1855 Arrows at Date and no Rays, weight 12.44 grams (0.36 ounces of silver)
- Variety 5 1856-1866 With Drapery, weight 12.44 grams (0.36 ounces of silver)
- Variety 6 1866-1873 & 1875-1891 Motto "IN GOD WE TRUST" added to reverse
- Variety 7 1873-1874 Arrows at Date, weight 12.50 grams (0.3618 ounces of silver)
|No Drapery||with Drapery||Arrows at Date||Rays on Reverse||Legend on Reverse|
General Market Notes
With 53 years of coin production, examples are available to collectors of all types.
For those on a small budget examples in a grade of Very Good to Fine should be no problem.
For years that may be potential sleepers look for any issue from 1879 to 1890 as no single year exceeded a mintage of 12,000. issues. All these years had individual mintages less than 20,000 coins. For other possibilities also check out the issues for 1841-O, 1851-O, 1852-O, and 1855-S.
For the investor, the key to the series (excluding proofs & errors) is the 1878-S. The semi-keys are: 1855-S, 1870-CC, 1874-CC, 1878-CC, 1886 and 1887.