Half cents were authorized by the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, were first produced in 1793, but were not popular with the public. It is perhaps for this reason that it wasn’t until 1800 that Engraver Robert Scot adapted the Gilbert Stuart design to the half cent. Stuart’s design first appeared on the silver dollar in 1795, and on fractional silver coins and large cents in 1796. The Draped Bust portrait has been criticized as a “dowdy” version of Stuart’s original drawing (indeed, the artist apparently disassociated himself from the effort, and his connection to the Mint was unknown for years), but today the design has a classic appeal that is popular with collectors. No half cents dated 1798 or 1799 were produced, but the coins were minted in 1799 and 1800 with 1797-dated dies of the previous type. The reverse design of the 1797 half cent was basically reused in 1800, a savings in die preparation, though the berries and stems of the laurel wreath were still added by hand, a process that resulted in some of the varieties known today.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Production of half cents reflected both an economy of Mint operations at the time, with both dies and damaged cent planchets reused when possible, and the low demand for the denomination. The first 1800 issues and all 1802 half cents were struck on blanks cut down from damaged large cents (remnants of the undertype are occasionally visible). No half cents were struck dated 1801, likely because of low demand, and when production resumed in 1802 the 1800 obverse die was reused and overdated. Mintages from 1804 and 1805 include coins dated 1803; and 1805 and 1806 mintages include 1804-dated coins, some on reused cent stock. The 1804 “Spiked Chin” variety is a testament to the inevitable damage resulting from extensively used dies. Some half cents produced in 1807 were likely dated 1806, and the tall “7” in the 1807 half cent may have been a punch intended for cent coinage. Though nearly 170,000 half cents were in storage at the time, an additional 400,000 half cents were struck in 1808, the final year of the type, some an 8 Over 7 overdate, others with an 8 created by what appears to be the use of a small “o” punch, with the o’s stacked to resemble a numeral. Many uncirculated survivors come from hoards discovered in the early- to mid-1900s.
On the obverse a youthful Liberty faces right, long hair cascading down the back of her neck, with a decorative headband ribbon tied at the back. Shoulders and neckline are loosely draped with rippled cloth. The word LIBERTY is centered at the top inside the border dentils, with the date centered at the bottom. The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA inside of, though separated from, a dentilled rim. Two laurel branches with individual berries form an interior circle with branch tips separate at the top, but tied by a ribbon at the bottom. Inside the wreath at the coin’s center is HALF CENT, each word on a separate line, and the denomination is repeated at the bottom as the fraction 1/200 (with a horizontal separator) below the bow. No mintmark appears on the coins, all were struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
Several hundred business strike Draped Bust half cents are reported in census/ population listings (no proofs are known), though some varieties are represented by fewer than 100 pieces, and some by fewer than 10 examples. Coins are described as Brown (BN), Red-Brown (RB), or Red (RD), with RB examples less common than BN, and RD the most scarce. Just a handful of pieces have been certified finer than MS65. Prices are moderate for many issues up to MS60, but rise to expensive finer than that. Higher priced coins include the 1802/0, Reverse of 1800, which is very expensive at all grades; 1802/0, Reverse of 1802; 1804 Plain 4, Stems; 1805 Small 5, Stems; 1806 Small 6, Stems; 1808/7; and coins graded as RB or RD, with RD coins usually significantly more expensive than RB coins.
Designer: Robert Scot, from a John Eckstein model of a Gilbert Stuart drawing
Circulation Mintage: high 1,055,312 (1804), low 20,266 (1802)
Proof Mintage: none known
Denomination: One half cent (005/100)
Diameter: 23.5 mm, plain edge
Metal Content: 100% copper
Weight: 5.44 grams
Varieties: Many known including 1802, 2 Over 0, Reverse of 1800 and Second Reverse (all 1802 half cents are overdates); 1803 Widely Spaced 3, 1804 Plain 4, Stems and Stemless; 1804 Crosslet 4, Stems and Stemless; 1804 Spiked Chin; 1805 Medium 5, Stemless; 1805 Small and Large 5, Stems; 1806 Small 6, Stems and Stemless; 1806 Large 6, Stems; 1808 8 Over 7; and other minor die variations.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Early American Coppers: www.eacs.org
Walter BreenÕs Encyclopedia of Early United States Half Cents 1793-1857. Walter Breen. American Institute of Numismatic Research.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing.
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.