Half Dollars – Liberty Seated Half Dollar, Motto, With Drapery, 1866-1891
The Civil War ended in May, 1865, with the surrender of the last Confederate troops. President Lincoln had been assassinated the previous month, and the nation was not only mourning his death but also the loss of over 600,000 husbands, sons, brothers, and friends. Twice as many soldiers had been killed by disease rather than by the mayhem of battle, but the loss was no less. Many turned to expressions of faith, and as early as 1861 there were calls to place a reference to God on the nation’s coinage. Patterns of proposed mottos were produced during the latter years of the War, but not until the imprimatur of the Act of March 3, 1865, was IN GOD WE TRUST added to silver coins of higher denomination than the dime, and to gold coins of higher denomination than the three dollar piece. Both No Motto and Motto half dollars were produced in 1866 at the San Francisco Mint, and possibly at Philadelphia. Only one 1866 No Motto Philadelphia piece is known, and its purpose is debated; whether it is a transitional pattern, a clandestine fantasy piece, or a genuine issue is unknown.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
In spite of mintages not significantly different from the No Motto pieces, Mint State examples from 1866 to 1873 are considered somewhat scarcer than the earlier pieces (though prices do not always reflect this difference). This reason for the scarcity is attributed to the Mint Act of February 12, 1873, which not only mandated a minor increase of the weight of the half dollar to 12.5 grams (which was within the allowable tolerance of weight deviation for the 12.44 gram standard), but also called for melting of obsolete issues. Many unsold proofs and undistributed business strike half dollars were melted, more than likely the reason for some of the notable rarities of the period. For example, records indicate 5,000 1873-S half dollars were minted, but none is known today, and it is assumed all were melted.
Other oddities in the Liberty Seated half dollar series occurred in the No Motto period. A few silver proof sets, containing the quarter, half dollar, and dollar, were produced with the 1865 date, but other than the date these coins display the adopted 1866 Motto designs. There are also 1863 and 1864 dated proof coins with the motto. Die study indicates these coins may have been produced between 1866 and 1868, likely for the benefit of Mint Director Henry Linderman and pattern collector Robert Coulton Davis. The slightly increased weight of 1873 and 1874 half dollars was done so that the coins had an exact metric weight (12.5 grams instead of 12.44 grams), and an arrow was once again added to each side of the date; though the arrows on the earlier 1853 through 1855 issues indicated a weight reduction. And, coming full circle, the arrows were removed in 1875, staying that way until the series ended with the 1891 issue.
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. Coins from the latter part of 1873 and 1874 have two arrowheads, one on each side of the date; those from 1875 forward have no arrowheads.
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 With Drapery, Motto half dollars were minted at Philadelphia (all years), San Francisco (1866-1878), and Carson City (1870-1878). CC and S mintmarks appear on the reverse, below the eagle and above the denomination.
Several hundred Liberty Seated With Drapery, Motto business strike half dollars have been certified, though in general there are fewer listings from 1866 through 1873. Prices are moderate for most issues up to Select Uncirculated, but examples are expensive as near-Gem and finer. A few prooflike pieces have been certified, particularly for coins dated 1873 and later. Higher priced coins are 1870-CC, 1871-CC, 1873 No Arrows Open 3, 1873-CC No Arrows, 1873-CC Arrows, 1874-CC, 1877/6, 1878-CC, and 1878-S. The 1878-S is a classic rarity, extremely expensive at all grades, particularly as Mint State 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 for most dates, 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 8,418,000 (1876), low 4,400 (1882)
Proof Mintage: high 1,355 (1880), low 510 (1877)
Denomintion: $0.50 Fifty cents (50/100)
Diameter: ±30.6 mm; reeded edge
Metal content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: ±12.44 grams; 12.5 grams from the latter part of 1873 forward
Varieties: Many identified, most consisting of repunched dates and minor die variations. Other than the two-year Arrows issues, the major variety listed in census/ population reports is the 1873 Open 3 and Close 3 for business strikes, and Close 3 for all proofs. Open and Close (sometimes listed as Closed) refers to the amount of space between the knob ends of the 3 digit, changed because of concerns that the Close 3 would be mistaken for an 8.
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.