Two half dollar series are called “Bust Halves”, the earlier Draped Bust type that ended in 1807 and the Capped Bust type that started in 1807 and ended in 1839. Capped Bust halves produced through 1836 have a lettered edge, but in 1836 the edge was changed to the familiar reeded style. Though there were subtle design changes after 1809, and others throughout the life of the series, it is the 1836 edge change that is used by many numismatists to separate the styles into two distinct types. Half dollars in the early 1800s were the workhorse of circulating silver coinage; no silver dollars were minted from 1804 through 1835, and not in quantity until 1840 (excluding the specimen 1804 issues). Produced using man- or animal-powered screw presses, with hand-punched elements on the dies, Capped Bust halves have many varieties, which has generated extensive collector interest. The design was by German-born engraver John Reich, who had come to the United States as an indentured servant to escape the Napoleonic Wars. Mint Director Robert Patterson saw in Reich the person who could create designs that would in his opinion improve the beauty of this country’s coins. Some maintained that Reich based the Liberty portrait on his mistress, though nothing confirming that rumor has ever been found. In only three years of the Capped Bust series did production drop below one million coins. No halves were produced in 1816 because a major fire at the Mint forced the suspension of all silver coinage, and no proofs are known until 1820, though rumors persist of samples produced as early as 1817.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Reich’s elegant Liberty portrait covers most of the obverse. Facing to the left, Liberty wears a mobcap, described by Webster’s dictionary as “a woman’s fancy indoor cap made with a high full crown and often tied under the chin.” The high crown of the hat is shown, folded over toward the front, but no tie appears on the coin. Across the bottom of the cap is the word LIBERTY, and cascades of curling hair drop down across the back and shoulder from under the cap. A flowing robe drapes across the bust, secured by a clasp on the shoulder. Thirteen six-point stars encircle inside a dentilled rim, seven to the left and six to the right. The date is at the bottom of the coin. An imposing eagle is placed in the center of the reverse, head turned to the eagle’s right (viewer’s left), wings outstretched as if ready to fly, with a shield over the breast. Three arrows are held in the sinister claw (eagle’s left) and an olive branch in the dexter. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is placed around the top two-thirds of the coin inside a dentilled rim, with the denomination 50 C. at the bottom. A concentric banner with E PLURIBUS UNUM is placed above the eagle, below STATES OF, flat except for folded ends. The edge displays the value of FIFTY CENTS OR HALF A DOLLAR. From 1814 through 1831 a star was added between DOLLAR and FIFTY, and from 1832 through 1836 vertical lines were added between the words. No mintmark is shown; all were produced at Philadelphia.
For nearly every date, but not necessarily for every variety, hundreds of coins are listed in census/ population reports. Coins are certified at grades from Very Fine to Superb Gem, though most cluster from Extremely Fine through near-Mint State. Significant numbers are available as Mint State up through near-Gem, but Gem and finer coins are scarce to rare. Prices are generally moderate through Choice AU but advance steeply thereafter, particularly as Gem or finer. Proofs are known from 1820 through 1836, and speculated for the years 1817 through 1819, though not confirmed. All proofs are rare and expensive; in most years the total produced was fewer than 15 coins.
Designer: John Reich
Circulation Mintage:high 6,545,000 (1836), low 47,150 (1815; all are the 1815/2 overdate)
Proof Mintage: high 15 (1836, estimated), low 5 (1820-1824, estimated; none confirmed prior to 1820)
Denomintion: $0.50, Fifty cents (50/100)
Diameter: ±32.5 mm, lettered edge
Metal content: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: ±13.48 grams
Varieties:Extensively studied, and collected by Overton Numbers. Over 789 different dies have been identified. Varieties trading at higher price premiums are the 1812/1 Large 8, the 1815/2, the 1817/4 (very expensive), and the 1830 Large Letters. The 1815/2 overdate is the only 1815-dated coin of the series, and fewer than 10 of the 1817/4 overdate are known. Many overdates, engraving errors, and letter and number size/ shape variations have been catalogued, some represented in census/ population reports by fewer than five examples.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
John Reich Collectors Society: http://logan.com/jrcs/
United States Early Half Dollar Die Varieties 1794-1836, Donald Parsley (Al Overton). Donald L. Parsley.
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.