Q. David Bowers (edited and updated by Mike Sherman): In 1838, the Capped Bust half dollar was restyled slightly, and the denomination on the reverse, earlier styled as 50 CENTS was revised to HALF DOL. Certain other changes were effected in the thickness of the reverse letters and the details of the eagle. For the first time, half dollars were struck at a branch mint, New Orleans. The 1838-O half dollar is one of America’s prime rarities. It is believe that just 20 were struck, nearly all of which had prooflike surfaces. In the following year, a more generous mintage of nearly 179,000 half dollars were struck at New Orleans. In a seeming show of pride, the mintmark was displayed above the date on the obverse.
The type set collector will probably seek an example of the 1838 or 1839 Philadelphia issue, each of which boasted a mintage of over 1 million pieces. Examples are readily available in grades from Very Good through Extremely Fine. AU coins are scarce, and Uncirculated pieces even more so. Superb Uncirculated coins are quite rare, and seldom seen or offered for sale.
-- Reprinted with permission from "United States Coins by Design Types - An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor" by Q. David Bowers