The Draped Bust Small Eagle half dollar type was minted for two years, as was the Flowing Hair type that preceded it. No half dollars were minted from 1798 through 1800, and when the series resumed in 1801 the design was changed again. The obverse was essentially the same, but the eagle on the reverse was now larger, called the heraldic type due to the resemblance of the eagle and shield to the Great Seal of the United States. This reverse design was already being used on half dimes and dollars. John Eckstein modeled Liberty from a portrait done by artist Gilbert Stuart, and Chief Engraver Robert Scot produced the coinage dies from Eckstein’s impression. Stuart apparently disavowed the final result as not faithfully representing his original work, and his association with the effort was unknown for many years.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Early mintages of the new half dollar type were higher than the last year of the Small Eagle reverse, but not excessively so; the total number of coins minted in 1801 and 1802 was approximately 30,000 pieces in each of those years. Those figures jumped in 1803 and 1805 to around 200,000 coins, but in 1806 the total was nearly 840,000 pieces. The total for the final year of the type dropped, but even then over 300,000 coins were minted. No 1804-dated half dollars were produced, but the existence of an 1805/4 overdate indicates that 1804 dies were prepared. Though Mint reports show that over 155,000 half dollars were minted in 1804, these were likely 1803-dated coins.
Cents, half dollars, and half eagles were the primary coinage produced in the Mint’s early history, but of those three denominations the cent circulated most freely. In many cases gold coins and the larger denomination silver coins such as half dollars were used mostly for bank-to-bank transactions; the face value of those coins represented a significant amount of money for the ordinary workman at the time, and many of the original mintage have survived. The Draped Bust Heraldic Eagle halves are considered one of the few early U.S. coin types for which a complete date series can be easily assembled.
The obverse prominently displays Liberty in the center of the coin, long flowing hair swept backward and down her neck, and tied at the back with a ribbon. Folded drapery is placed across the bust and over her shoulder. Thirteen six-point stars, seven to the left and six to the right, LIBERTY at the top, and the date at the bottom form a circle inside the dentilled rim. The reverse has in the center a left-facing eagle, wings outstretched with the tips extending nearly to the dentilled rim. A shield covers most of the body, and the eagle holds in its beak a loop of a ribbon displaying E PLURIBUS UNUM, positioned in front of the right wing and in back of the left. The eagle’s right claw clutches several arrows, the left an olive branch. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA nearly circles inside the rim, the words separated by the eagle’s wing tips. Above the eagle are 13 small six-point stars in two arcs, six at the top and five below, with an additional star on each side of the eagle’s head. Above the stars, below STATES OF is an arc of clouds. The denomination no longer appears on the reverse as it did on the previous type. All coins were produced at Philadelphia and have no mintmark.
Prices of Draped Bust Heraldic Eagles halves are modest at low grades, advancing as XF or finer, and expensive as AU or finer. Few Mint State pieces have been certified and all are expensive, particularly as near-Gem or finer. Reflecting lower mintage totals, 1801 and 1802 coins are more expensive at all grades and very expensive as AU or finer. The 1806 Knob 6, No Stem variety is rare and expensive, and unknown in census/ population reports finer than XF40. Some varieties are scarce or rare, and expensive as Mint State. No proofs are known, but an 1807 coin has been certified as a Gem specimen example.
Designer: Robert Scot and John Eckstein
Circulation Mintage: high 839,576 (1806, all varieties), low 29,890 (1802)
Proof Mintage:none known, but a prooflike specimen exists
Denomintion: $0.50 Fifty cents (50/100)
Diameter: ±32.5 mm. Lettered edge, FIFTY CENTS OR HALF A DOLLAR, the words separated by circle, rectangle, or star ornamentation
Metal content: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: ±13.48 grams
Varieties:Many known, some rare, with the most commonly listed including the 1803 Large 3 and Small 3; 1805/4 (the first recorded use of an overdate on half dollar coinage); 1806/5; 1806/9 (considered an inverted 6 rather than a 9); 1806 E/A (STATES over STATAS); and 1806 No Stem, With Stem (no stem and with stem referring to the presence/ absence of the end of the olive branch in the eagle’s left claw), Large Stars, Small Stars, Knob 6, and Point 6 (knob and point referring to the shape of the top extension of the digit 6) in various combinations. Other varieties with minor differences in device placement or size are also known.
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 L. Parsley. 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.