Liberty Seated Half Dimes (1837-1873)
The Liberty seated half-dime was introduced in 1837, and was made until 1873. Like its larger ten-, twenty-five, and fifty-cent cousins, it was a workhorse coin that saw widespread circulation. The seated half-dime was produced at three different mints: Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco. American artist Thomas Sully produced the original sketch of Liberty used for the obverse design. Sully’s sketch was rendered into a coin design by engraver Christian Gobrecht.
There are several main types of seated half-dime, with a few design modifications made over the years. Coins made in 1837 and part of 1838 featured an obverse without stars; during 1838 a border of thirteen stars was added to the obverse. This type with stars added was made until 1859, with subtle other changes to the design during those years. In 1853, a pair of arrowheads was added to the left and right of the date, indicating a very slight reduction in weight. These arrows were removed after 1855, although the reduced weight standard remained. The coin saw an extensive redesign in 1860, with the most obvious change being the relocation of “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” from the reverse to the obverse. The later modifications to the coin’s design were by Robert Ball Hughes and Anthony C. Paquet.
Mintmarks, when present, are found on the reverse: within the wreath (1838-1859), below the wreath (1860-1869), within the wreath again (1870-early 1872), and once again below the wreath (late 1872-1873).
The seated half-dime series features a number of truly scarce and elusive dates. Most of these are Philadelphia-mint issues of the 1860s, made during a time when silver hardly circulated in the East. The series also includes one of the legendary rarities of U.S. numismatics, the unique & mysterious 1870-S half dime. Circulated examples of many dates, aside from these, are readily available and generally inexpensive. Uncirculated and proof examples can be expensive, depending on the usual factors of date, mintmark, and quality.
During the Civil War-era, silver coins were hoarded in the East, and were rarely seen in change. To offset the resultant shortage of small change, a new nickel nickel five-cent piece was first issued in 1866. The new coin was immediately popular, which spelled the end for the half-dime denomination. The half-dime was altogether discontinued in 1873, replaced by the familiar “nickel.” Millions of the old half-dimes were melted later in the 1870s, as the price of silver increased.