The Liberty Seated half dollar series is comprised of several subtypes. Rising silver prices that followed the influx of California gold into the monetary system in the late 1840s and early 1850s created a situation where the bullion value of silver coins was greater than the face value. To halt the melting of silver coins that resulted from this situation, Mint Director George N. Eckert proposed a reduction in the size of silver coins, which was passed by Congress as the Act of February 21, 1853. To distinguish the new lighter-weight 1853 half dollars from the old, an arrow was added to each side of the date on the obverse, and rays were added around the eagle on the reverse (both With Arrows and the rare No Arrows pieces were produced in 1853).
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
However, the arrows and rays required more die preparation time and caused excessive die wear, so the rays were dropped in 1854, creating a third design of the No Motto With Drapery half dollar (the first type was the heavier 13.36 gram issue with no arrows or rays, and the second the 12.44 gram, one year Arrows and Rays design). Half dollar dies were sent to San Francisco in 1854, and the prior year, but no half dollars were minted at that facility until 1855. After two years, the arrows were dropped from the design for the 1856 issue, creating a fourth With Drapery type (actually the same design as the 1837 issue but at a lighter weight). No significant additional changes were made until 1866 when IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse. All half dollars produced from 1853 through 1866 were at the new lower weight, with the exception of the three known 1853-O No Arrows pieces.
The obverse shows Liberty in flowing robes seated on a rock, head turned back to her right. Long locks of curled hair cascade down her back and across the shoulder, and are tied with a barely discernable band. Her left arm is bent, holding a pole topped by a Liberty cap, while the extended right arm supports a Union shield leaning against the rock. Across the center of the shield is a curved banner with the word LIBERTY. Thirteen six-point stars form a circle around the top two-thirds of the coin, inside a dentilled rim, seven stars to the left, five to the right, and one between Liberty's head and the Liberty cap. The date is centered at the bottom, with a short arrowhead on each side.
The reverse has a centered left-facing eagle, with extended but partly folded wings. The eagle clutches an olive branch in the right claw and three arrows in the left, though fletching is shown for only two of the three arrowheads. A shield is placed over the chest. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA forms a concentric arc to the inside of the top two-thirds of the dentilled rim, with the denomination of HALF DOL. at the bottom visually completing the circle. Liberty Seated With Motto, With Arrows half dollars were minted at Philadelphia, New Orleans (1854-1855), and San Francisco (1855). O and S mintmarks appear on the reverse, below the eagle and above the denomination.
Several hundred Liberty Seated With Drapery, With Arrows business strike half dollars have been certified, including at least one prooflike piece. Prices are moderate for most issues up to Select Uncirculated, becoming expensive as near-Gem and finer. Higher priced coins are the 1855/1854 (also listed as 1855/854 and 1855/54) and the 1855-S, the latter extremely expensive as Select Uncirculated and finer. Most proof examples are scarce to rare, and Cameo and Specimen examples have been certified. All proofs are expensive, with the 1855/1854 nearly double the price of the other issues as Select Proof and finer.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht (from a Thomas Sully drawing), modified by Robert Ball Hughes and James B. Longacre
Circulation Mintage: high 5,240,000 (1854-O), low 129,950 (1855-S)
Proof Mintage: high 30 (1854, estimated), low 15 (1855, estimated)
Denomintion: $0.50 Fifty cents (50/100)
Diameter: ±30.6 mm; reeded edge
Metal content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: ±12.44 grams
Varieties: A few identified, with the 1855 Over 1854 listed in census/ population reports for both business strike and proof issues, along with a few other minor die variations.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Liberty Seated Half Dollar discussion forum: www.seated.org/boards
The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars. Randy Wiley, Bill Bugert. DLRC Press.
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.