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HomeUS Coins1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Drapery : A Collector's Guide

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Drapery : A Collector’s Guide

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, WB-101. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, WB-101. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

The half dollar was the last denomination to adopt United States Mint Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht’s Liberty Seated design, replacing the Capped Bust type.

Capped Bust Reeded Edge halves were produced for only four years (1836-39), overlapping the first year of the Liberty Seated design. For the Liberty Seated coinage, Gobrecht adapted his design from a sketch by portrait artist Thomas Sully.

The first-year-of-issue 1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar was produced in two versions, with the first delivery in August.

The No Drapery type refers to the absence of extra drapery below Liberty’s elbow. Another 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 a side-by-side comparison of the two types because the left edge of the stone is closer to the bottom left star.

The 1839 With Drapery 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.

Nearly two million 1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollars of both types were produced, but most feature the modified With Drapery obverse. PCGS estimates that perhaps 100,000 were made. Because the No Drapery version is a one-year type coin, examples sell for a premium over coins with the revised With Drapery obverse.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top PopulationPCGS MS65+ (2, 5/2024), NGC MS66 (1, 5/2024), and CAC MS64 (5:0 stickered:graded, 5/2024).

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Motto, No Drapery, WB-101

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, WB-101. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, WB-101. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

The Wiley-Bugert reference catalogs the 1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar with No Drapery as WB-101 and the 1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar With Drapery as WB-102. In the most recent publication of the Bugert reference, four die marriages are identified for the No Drapery type. These are cataloged as WB-1 through WB-4. Two obverse dies were used to strike the 1839 No Drapery Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Obverse 1 was married to Reverses A, B, and C to create WB-1, WB-2, and WB-3 varieties. Obverse 2 was paired with Reverse D to create WB-4.

Auction catalogers and non-specialist coin dealers do not consistently provide information relating to the die marriage. CoinWeek cannot provide an exact accounting of recent auction appearances of the WB-1 through WB-4 listings. For now, we will divide our noteworthy specimen tables into two types: the first for coins only identified as WB-101 and the second with coins specifically identified by die marriage. In the future, with expert feedback, we may be able to better populate the later set of tables.

  • NGC MS67 #1727946-010: “The Joseph C. Thomas Collection, Part Two,” Heritage Auctions, January 6, 2011, Lot 5558 – $172,500.
  • PCGS MS65 #32916369: ‘The Lawrence Stack Type Set,” Stack’s, by sale, January 2003. As PCGS MS65 #32916369. “The D. Brent Pogue Family Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, March 31, 2017, Lot 5026 – $141,000. Lustrous example with speckled orange and magenta toning throughout.
  • NGC MS65 #448216-002: Heritage Auctions, June 23, 2014, Lot 30482 – $88,125. Darkly toned.
  • PCGS MS65 #25583349: As MS64. Heritage Auctions, April 2011, Lot 5147 – $115,000; As PCGS MS65 #25583349. Heritage Auctions, August 3, 2012, Lot 5150 – $152,750.
  • NGC MS65 #3189098-001: “Chalkley Collection,” Superior January 1990, Lot 3565; As MS64 #211419-004. Heritage Auctions, May 28, 2008, Lot 651 – $92,000; “The Silbermünzen Collection,” Heritage Auctions, May 2008, Lot 651. As NGC MS65 #3189098-001. Heritage Auctions, October 23, 2008, Lot 896 – $149,500; Heritage Auctions, July 31, 2009, Lot 1120 – $94,875; “The Bay State Collection, Part Two,” Heritage Auctions, July 31, 2009, Lot 1120 – $94,875. Silvery centers with red and blue edge toning.
  • NGC MS64+ #3817059-001: Stack’s Bowers, May 25, 2016, Lot 29 – $25,850. Iridescent toning in purple, blue, and aqua (obverse) and similar cool colors with golden center (reverse).
  • NGC MS64+ CAC #3721830-002: “Colonel” E.H.R. Green; Green Estate; Eric P. Newman / B.G. Johnson, d.b.a. St. Louis Coin & Stamp Company; Eric P. Newman, $30. As NGC MS64+ CAC #3721830-002.”The Eric P. Newman Collection, Part II,” Heritage Auctions, November 15, 2013, Lot 33466 – $61,687.50. Eric P. Newman novelty insert. As NGC MS64+ CAC #3721830-002. Heritage Auctions, August 12, 2015, Lot 4058 – $41,125. Recertified, Newman pedigree removed; Heritage Auctions, August 10, 2016, Lot 4101 – $30,550. Antiqued gold, green, and purple toning.
  • PCGS MS64 #6570651: Heritage Auctions, October 28, 2015, Lot 98637 – $32,900. Peach toning through, crescent blue toning on the reverse.
  • PCGS MS64 #25341659: Heritage Auctions, June 5, 2014, Lot 4526 – $41,125.
  • PCGS MS64 #25057783: As PCGS MS63 #50000554. James Swan; “The Oliver Jung Collection,” American Numismatic Rarities, July 23, 2004, Lot 65 – $24,150; Heritage Auctions, February 2005, Lot 7028; “The Fred Yee Collection,” Heritage Auctions, September 7, 2012, Lot 4569 – $23,500. As PCGS MS64 #25057783. Heritage Auctions, August 9, 2013, Lot 5637 – $45,531.25. Upgraded one point. Blue and red toning. Large fingerprint in the right obverse field.
  • PCGS MS64 CAC #19201997: Heritage Auctions, April 28, 2011, Lot 5147 – $115,000.

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Drapery, WB-101, WB-1

WB-1 marries Obverse 1 with Reverse A. Rust lumps are present throughout.

  • NGC MS63 #1891956-013: “The Gibney Family Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 24, 2021, Lot 5042 – $21,600.
  • NGC MS63 #209430-012: Heritage Auctions, September 18, 2020, Lot 3615 – $19,200.

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Drapery, WB-101, WB-2

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, WB-2. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, WB-2. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

Diagonal die line across the bottom of the shield. Bugert identifies the reverse die as transitional with 1840 (H).

  • PCGS MS65+ #38681270: As NGC MS64 CAC #121492-001. “The E. Horatio Morgan Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, November 15, 2019, Lot 7201 – $75,000. Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2020, Lot 3711 – $150,000. Cross to PCGS, where the coin upgraded by 1.5 points. Frosty surfaces with dark cobalt rims and lighter areas are gold and orange. Stars 4-6 are weak. There is a dark spot below the tip of the branch. Another dark spot to the left of the eagle’s right wing. Dark spot below the second S of STATES.
  • PCGS MS64 #84288881: AS PCGS MS64 #25341659. Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2015, Lot 5084 – $35,250; D.L. Hansen; Heritage Auctions, January 11, 2024, Lot 4070 – $39,600. Darkly toned peripheries.
  • PCGS MS63 #40624963: Heritage Auctions, April 24, 2021, Lot 5043 – $21,000. Dark purple and salmon toning.
  • PCGS MS62 #13819281: “The Arlington Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, March 26, 2024, Lot 4109 – $14,400. Silvery-champagne color. Small tick below 9. Black spot on left tip of star 10. Two ticks to the left of the eagle’s neck. Black spots on fletching.

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Drapery, WB-101, WB-3

Die crack from 4 o’clock through the eagle’s wing. Weak denticles in the obverse upper left.

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Drapery, WB-101, WB-4

1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, WB-4. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1839 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, WB-4. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

Liberty’s right leg and the eagle’s talons are blunt. Two die lines at Liberty’s heel. Date to the right.

  • PCGS MS65 #25583349: Heritage Auctions, April 2011, Lot 5147; Heritage Auctions, August 2012, Lot 5150; “The O’Neal Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 12, 2023, Lot 3724 – $126,000.
  • PCGS MS65 #2574984: “The Larry H. Miller Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, December 17, 2020, Lot 1081 – $138,000.

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Design

Obverse:

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 discernible 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-pointed stars form a circle around the top two-thirds of the coin, inside a denticulated 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.

Reverse:

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. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA forms a concentric arc to the inside of the top two-thirds of the denticulated rim, with the denomination of HALF DOL. at the bottom visually completing the circle. No mintmark is shown on this Philadelphia issue.

Edge:

The edge of the 1839 Liberty Seated No Drapery Half Dollar is reeded.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1839
Denomination: Half Dollar (50 Cents USD)
Mintmark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: ±100,000
Alloy: .900 silver, .100 copper
Weight: 13.36 g
Diameter: 30.60 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht (from a Thomas Sully drawing)
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht (from a Thomas Sully drawing)
Quality: Business Strike

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Wiley, Randy and Bill Bugert. The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars. DLRC Press.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.
 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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