Half-Dimes and Dimes : Liberty Seated Half Dime

Obverse of 1859 Half Dime Reverse of 1859 Half Dime
Q. David Bowers (edited and updated by Mike Sherman): Christian Gobrecht’s Liberty Seated motif, used on half dimes from 1837 through the end of the series in 1873, was struck in 1837 at the Philadelphia Mint and the following year at the New Orleans Mint, without obverse stars, thus isolating these two issues as a separate type. The obverse depicts the figure of Liberty seated on a rock, her left hand holding a liberty cap on a pole and her right hand holding a shield inscribed LIBERTY. The date is at the bottom border. The reverse consists of an open wreath tied with a ribbon, enclosing HALF DIME, with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounding. Mintage figures reveal that 1,405,000 of the 1837 Philadelphia issue were produced while only 70,000 were made of the 1838-O.

Specimens are readily obtainable in grades from Good through Extremely Fine. The type collector will direct his attention to the 1837 for in every grade, the 1838-O is considerably more expensive. In AU and Uncirculated grade, the 1837 is available without too much difficulty, although top grade Uncirculated pieces can be tough. Uncirculated examples of the 1838-O are quite rare. The Liberty Seated design without stars on the obverse was used only on the half dimes and dimes, not on quarters of half dollars. In the dollar series, the no-stars motif appears only in pattern form in 1836.

In 1838 stars were added to the obverse of the Liberty Seated design. Otherwise the motif is similar to the 1837 and 1838-O Liberty Seated pieces. From 1838 thorough 1859 many different varieties were produced, including some struck at the New Orleans Mint (and bearing a distinctive O mintmark on the reverse). Early issues lacked drapery at Liberty’s elbow. There are some scarce dates and varieties within the range, notably 1846, 1849-O, and 1853-O without arrows at date, but there are enough common varieties that it is not difficult to acquire an example in nearly any desired grade from Good through About Uncirculated. Uncirculated coins are naturally scarcer, but should not present an undue challenge to the collector.

In 1853 the Liberty Seated design was modified by the addition of arrowheads to the left and right of the date to signify a decrease in the authorized weight from 20.625 grains to 19.200 grains. These arrows remained in place through 1855, after which they were discontinued, although the reduced weight remained in effect.

As earlier half dimes (as well as the other silver denominations) were being hoarded, the mint produced an unprecedented quantity of half dimes of the with-arrows style, with the figure for 1853 totaling 13,210,020 at the Philadelphia Mint whereas the highest mintage for any earlier half dime date since the inception of the denomination was 2,760,000, or less than a quarter of this figure, back in 1835.

The numismatist will have no difficulty in acquiring an example of this design in any desired grade from Good through AU. Uncirculated pieces are available, but gems can be a bit more elusive.

In the half dime and dime series, a modification to the design occurred in 1860. The Liberty Seated motif was retained as the central obverse design, but the peripheral stars were eliminated in favor of the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA that had previously appeared around the border of the reverse. The date remained below Liberty. The reverse wreath was restyled to a larger format without lettering at the border, enclosing the denomination expressed as HALF DIME. This style was continued thorough the end of the denomination in 1873.

The type collector will have no difficulty acquiring a common date of this type in any desired grade from Good through Uncirculated. As might be expected, Superb Uncirculated pieces may require a bit of searching. Proofs were issued to collectors and are generally available. Scattered among the common dates in the series are several scarce varieties, and the Philadelphia issues of 1863-1867 inclusive are rare.

-- Reprinted with permission from "United States Coins by Design Types - An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor" by Q. David Bowers