The Mint Act of February 12, 1873, changed the weight of the half dollar by a minuscule amount, from 12.44 grams to 12.5 grams, in order to apply a metric uniformity to the coin’s weight. An arrow was again added to each side of the date to indicate the changed weight, the same reason arrows were added to the 1853 through 1855 half dollars, except this time the weight was higher rather than lower than the earlier issues. The higher weight of the new coin was within the allowable tolerances (plus or minus 0.2 grams) for half dollar blanks of the previous weight, and some scholars have speculated that older blanks were ‘used up’ for the 1873 and 1874 issues. A more significant issue for collectors is that authorities also ordered melting of previous coins, which likely accounts for the scarcity of many pre-1873 Motto half dollars today. For reasons unexplained, the arrows were removed (again) for the 1875 mintage, and half dollars continued in that style through the end of the series in 1891.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The 1873 Mint Act was notable for other reasons. It also abolished the domestic dollar coin and introduced the heavier trade dollar as the coin that would meet this country’s trade and export needs. As a result the half dollar became the largest denomination circulating silver coin, though silver dollars rarely circulated outside the western and southern states because of their size and bulk. A half dollar was not an insignificant amount of money in the early 1870s; two of those coins would have approximated a day’s wages for a majority of industrial workers at the time. A combination of the reappearance of smaller denomination silver coins into circulation as people spent coins hoarded during the Civil War years, a glut of newly mined silver from Nevada, huge amounts of foreign silver entering the market, and the trade dollar’s inability to provide sufficient outlet for that silver bullion eventually earned the 1873 Act the title of the “Crime of 1873” by silver interests.
The ‘crime’ was that silver purchases by the U.S. government declined dramatically, which resulted in reduced profits in the silver industry. The solution to this problem was political, in the form of the 1878 Bland-Allison Act, which mandated monthly purchases of millions of ounces of silver bullion by the federal government in order to produce a new dollar coin (the best denomination for using up a lot of silver), the Morgan dollar. Though half dollars continued to be produced after Bland-Allison, mintages dropped dramatically after 1878. Nearly one and a half million Liberty Seated half dollars were produced by the Philadelphia, Carson City, and San Francisco Mints in 1878 (mostly at Philadelphia), but in 1879 only 4,800 half dollars were produced. For all years of the 1880s and in 1890 the highest mintage of half dollars was 12,001 coins in 1888. Production jumped in 1891 for the final year of the series to 200,000 pieces, but that was far below the peak output of well over twelve million coins in both 1876 and 1877.
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 one arrow on each side signifying the weight change.
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 eagle’s 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. Above the eagle, below TED STATES OF A, is a flowing banner with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. Liberty Seated Motto, with Arrows half dollars were minted at Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Carson City for each of the two years of the type. CC and S mintmarks appear on the reverse, below the eagle and above the denomination.
Several hundred Liberty Seated With Drapery, Motto, with Arrows business strike half dollars have been certified. Prices are moderate up to Select Uncirculated, but examples are expensive as near-Gem and finer. A very few prooflike pieces have been certified. Higher priced coins are 1873-CC and 1874-CC, which are very expensive as Select Uncirculated and finer. Most proof examples are moderately priced through Select Proof, and expensive as Gem or finer. The 1873 and 1874 With Arrows are about twice as expensive per grade as No Arrows proofs. Cameo and Deep Cameo examples have been certified and have slight premiums over non-cameo pieces, though higher as Gem and finer.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht (from a Thomas Sully drawing), modified by Robert Ball Hughes and James B. Longacre
Circulation Mintage: high 2,359,600 (1874), low 59,000 (1874-CC)
Proof Mintage: high 700 (1874), low 550 (1873)
Denomintion: $0.50 Fifty cents (50/100)
Diameter: ±30.6 mm; reeded edge
Metal content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: ±12.5 grams
Varieties: A few known, consisting mostly of minor die variations with a couple of repunched dates.
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.