Though 1794 half cents are sometimes included in the Liberty Cap, Head Facing Right type, there are differences that distinguish that date from half cents produced from 1795 through 1797. Chief Engraver Robert Scot’s 1794 Liberty design was adapted from the Libertas Americana medal, a design by French medalist Augustin Dupre to commemorate America’s victory over Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Liberty’s head and the Phrygian (liberty) cap are larger on the 1794 issue, filling most of the obverse space. Liberty’s hair is also fashioned differently, flowing farther back from the head, and the relief of the coin is higher. Assistant Engraver John Smith Gardner lowered the relief and reduced the size of Liberty’s head in 1795. Gardner also placed the wreath elements on the die by hand, whereas Scot had added all the reverse details to the hub. Because considerable striking pressure was required to completely transfer the hub details to the die, Scot’s process was not continued: the results were often not as good as expected, requiring the hand work that Scot had hoped to minimize.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Half cents were authorized by the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, though the production of the coins had a troubled early history. The denomination was not popular with the public, who preferred the cent. Certain individuals, mindful of the profits to be made, lobbied to remove coinage as a federal activity, instead placing the work into the hands of private contractors. Annual recurrence of yellow fever outbreaks in the 1790s took a toll of Mint staff. There was also an ongoing problem securing copper supplies of good quality, and some half cents were struck on cut-down Talbot, Allum & Lee tokens, others from spoiled cent coins. Some half cents show remnants of these undertypes (often valued as a subtype), and some 1795 coins were produced on thick planchets thought to be reused cent coins that were not rolled to correct half cent thickness. Half cents dated 1798 and 1799 were not made, though they were produced in 1799 and 1800 using 1797-dated dies. Half cents produced in 1800 were struck on cents dated 1797 and 1798, and possibly 1800. The Low Head half cent variety (referencing the position of the portrait on the flan) is also an overstruck cent subtype.
A right-facing, somewhat classical rendition of Liberty dominates the uncluttered obverse inside a dentilled rim. Liberty’s hair is streams to the back and down the neck. The word LIBERTY is centered at the top and the date is at the bottom. A Liberty pole topped by a Phrygian cap is placed behind the portrait, presumably resting on the unseen left shoulder. A segment of the pole is visible at the bottom of the cap, and the end of the pole extends diagonally from the lower neck nearly to the edge of the coin. The reverse displays UNITED STATES OF AMERICA inside of, though generously separated from, a dentilled rim. Two laurel branches with individual berries form an interior circle and are tied by a ribbon at the bottom. Inside the wreath at the coin’s center is the HALF CENT denomination, which is repeated as the fraction 1/200 below the bow.
Relatively few half cents of this type are listed in census/ population reports, and many varieties are scarce or rare. Prices are moderate at grades up to Very Fine, advancing strongly above that to expensive as Mint State and finer. Few Mint State coins have been certified, particularly as Gem and finer. All low-mintage 1796 varieties and the 1797 Gripped Edge are rare and very expensive, extremely so as Mint State. The 1795 Lettered Edge Punctuated Date and the 1797 Lettered Edge are slightly to moderately more expensive than most other varieties.
Designer: Robert Scot, modified by John Smith Gardner
Circulation Mintage: high 139,690 (1795, all varieties), low 1,390 (1796, both varieties)
Proof Mintage:none known
Denomintion: $0.005 One half cent (005/100)
Diameter: ±23.5 mm. 1795 edge labeled with TWO HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR. 1795-1797 edge plain, with some 1797 examples lettered or gripped (incuse pattern)
Metal content: 100% copper
Weight: 1795, ±6.74 grams. 1795-1797, ±5.44 grams
Varieties:Several for each of the three dates in this series. Those listed in census/ population reports are the 1795 Lettered Edge and Plain Edge; the 1795 punctuated date, so called because of a stray mark that looks like a comma between the 1 and the 7; 1795 Plain Edge With Pole Thin and No Pole Thick, No Pole referring to the missing pole in front of Liberty caused by excessive die lapping, and Thin and Thick referring to the planchet thickness; 1796 With Pole and No Pole versions, the No Pole an engraving omission; 1797 1/1, which has two impressions of the 1 digit, one above the other; 1797 Centered Head and Plain Edge Low Head; and 1797 Lettered Edge and Gripped Edge, the latter referring to an irregular incuse pattern on the coin edge. Other minor die variations are also known.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Early American Coppers: www.eacs.org
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of Early United States Half Cents 1793-1857. Walter Breen. American Institute of Numismatic Research.
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.