Capped Bust half dollars produced at the end of 1836 were some of the first coins made using new steam coinage presses and a close collar, which restricted expansion of the planchet during striking while at the same time giving a reeded edge to the coin. Capped Bust reeded edge halves were produced for only four years, with the final year overlapping the first year of the Liberty Seated design. The Seated motif was first used on the Gobrecht silver dollars in 1836, then half dimes, dimes, quarters, and finally the half dollar. Well-known portraitist Thomas Sully is credited with Liberty’s image, which was reproduced by Mint engraver Christian Gobrecht for coinage. The neoclassical art was representative of mid-nineteenth century tastes, but the design was used nearly to the end of the century before being replaced.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The 1839 Liberty Seated half dollar was produced in two versions. The No Drapery type refers to the absence of extra drapery below Liberty’s elbow. An additional diagnostic, useful to distinguish more heavily worn coins, is the rock upon which Liberty rests. It is larger than the one shown on the Drapery type, easily identified in side-by-side comparison of the two types because the left edge of the stone is closer to the bottom left star. The Drapery 1839 version and every issue thereafter has an extra drape of cloth extending down and forward from the elbow to the leg, and the smaller rock is noticeably farther from the first star.
The obverse shows Liberty seated on a rock in flowing robes, head turned back to her right, with long locks of curled hair cascading down her back and across the shoulder, and 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.
The reverse has a centered left-facing eagle, with extended but partly folded wings. The eagle clutches three arrows in the left claw and an olive branch in the right, 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. No mintmark is shown on this Philadelphia issue.
Nearly two million business strike 1839 Liberty halves of both types were produced but census/ population reports show only a few hundred No Drapery examples, which are considerably more expensive than the Drapery type. Prices are moderate to mid-XF grades but are expensive to extremely expensive (and rare) finer than that, particularly as Gem or finer. Very few proofs of the issue have been certified, and all are expensive to extremely expensive.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht (from a Thomas Sully drawing)
Circulation Mintage: 1,972,400 (includes both 1839 types)
Proof Mintage:5 (estimated; includes both 1839 types)
Denomintion: $0.50 Fifty cents (05/100)
Diameter: ±30.6 mm; reeded edge
Metal content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: ±13.36 grams
Varieties:None listed in census/ population reports, but a “thin numerals and claws” variety has been identified.
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.