Collecting Liberty Seated Half Dollars

These coins are perfect for collecting as part of a type set of U.S. coins. The author is a numismatist and member of the American Numismatic Association.

It was in the year 1839 that the Liberty Seated design was first used on the half dollar. Numismatists collect from the below five types available in this series:

  • No Drapery (1839)
  • With Drapery, No Motto (1839-1866)
  • Arrows at Date, Rays on Reverse (1853)
  • Arrows at Date (1854-1855)
  • With Motto (1866-1891)

In late 1835 Mint director R.M. Patterson ordered engraver Christian Gobrecht to craft a pair of dies based upon designs by Thomas Sully and Titian Peale. Gobrecht made them–both $1 coins–with a seated liberty holding a shield on the obverse and an eagle in flight on the reverse. Two versions of the reverse were created: one with stars in the field and one without.

1846-O 50c PCGS/CAC MS62 (Tall Date) Liberty Seated Half Dollar

Gobrecht dollars and pattern coins

Restrikes of these coins are available, although they are quite rare and very expensive. Dated 1836, they are all listed in the book of U.S. pattern coins by Judd, but J-60 is now considered a regular issue despite the fact that only 1,000 were minted in proof. For students of pattern coinage, the other versions of what has come to be called the ‘Gobrecht dollar’ are J-58 through J-66 (except J-60 as mentioned above). The reverse design of this coin was later redesigned by Gobrecht as the obverse for the Flying Eagle Cent of 1856-1858.

Gobrecht dollar design adapted for Liberty Seated half dollar

The obverse of the Gobrecht Dollar was adapted for the Liberty Seated half dollar, which was in production continuously from 1839 to 1891 in Philadelphia. The reverse was an adaptation of the one designed by John Reich in 1807; Reich’s obverse is the popular Capped Bust design. At the branch mints, Liberty Seated halves were minted in New Orleans from 1839 to 1861, San Francisco from 1855 to 1878, and in Carson City from 1870 until 1878.

Ideas for collecting Liberty Seated half dollars

It would be virtually impossible to collect a full date and mintmark run of this series. There is only a small handful of 1878-S coins available at a price that would dissuade all but extremely well-heeled collector. There are several key dates that are expensive and hard to find in higher grades that include 1850, 1851, 1852, 1855-S, 1866-S No Motto, 1870-CC and 1873-CC.

Focus on certified Mint State or Proof examples for your collection

“Buying scattered choice and gem Mint State pieces,” writes Bowers, “is also a favorite occupation, particularly for those building type sets and those who simply want to buy nice examples…” It is easier to focus one’s attention upon acquiring a few nice pieces. From an investment standpoint, it would be good to purchase one of the rarer issues in MS-63 through MS-65 in a PCGS or NGC certified holder–of course if your situation allows it. Please see my article on collecting and investing in coins for more information on the grading services.

Another option would be to collect one or more proof Liberty Seated half dollars. Bowers writes that from 1858 “through the end of the design in 1891, examples are readily available, but high quality specimens…[can be found from] 1879 to 1891.” A good idea for a type set would be to buy one Mint State example in MS-63 or better and a rainbow-toned proof example in Proof 64 or better. Pieces with beautiful color are easily available in proof. Please remember to buy your high-end coins in a certified holder from PCGS or NGC. If you buy a “raw”–uncertified–coin there is no guarantee that a grading company will certify it for you. Please see my article on rainbow-toned coins for more information on that subject.

 

Sources

Bowers, Q. David. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins: History, Values, Rarities, Grading. Whitman Publishing, Atlanta GA. 2008.

Judd, J. Hewitt. United States Pattern Coins. Complete Source for History, Rarity, and Values. Ninth Edition. Whitman Publishing, Atlanta GA. 2005.

Bowers, Q. David. The Expert’s Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing. (2006)

Yeoman, R.S. (Kenneth Bressett, Ed.) A Guide Book of United States Coins. 62nd Edition. 2009. Whitman Publishing, Atlanta GA. 2009.