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HomeUS CoinsBraided Hair Half Cent, 1840-1857 | CoinWeek

Braided Hair Half Cent, 1840-1857 | CoinWeek

1847 Braided Hair Half Cent. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1847 Braided Hair Half Cent. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

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

Although introduced with the noblest of intentions, the half cent denomination was seldom seen in commerce by 1809. Instead, the larger one-cent coin was preferred, and when this was unavailable, people made do with whatever low-value foreign coins were available. Low demand and the United States Mint’s difficulty in procuring copper blanks from Birmingham, England, resulted in the suspension of half cent production after the 63,140-coin mintage in 1811.

But even after the end of the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States, the Mint did not resume production of half cents until 1825 when they churned out 63,000 coins. 1826 saw an even larger mintage, but no half cents were produced in 1827. Even larger mintages took place in the following years, but there were also pauses in production. As was the case in 1812-1824 and 1827, no half cents were struck in 1830, or from 1837 through 1839.

It was during the late 1830s that the Mint undertook a multi-year process of revising the design of the Matron Head Cent. From 1836 onward, the head began to morph into the Braided Hair Type of 1839-1857. In 1840, the Mint brought a smaller version of the Braided Hair design to the half cent – but not to strike coins for circulation. Instead, the Mint produced limited numbers of the coin as Proofs, intended as presentation pieces for dignitaries, government officials, and collectors.

Creation of the Braided Hair Half Cent

The Braided Hair Half Cent design was created by U.S. Mint engraver Christian Gobrecht just months before being named Chief Engraver. Gobrecht was directed to produce new half cent dies for the Proof coins, as well as hubs from which working dies could be produced if the need for more circulating half cents became apparent.

Gobrecht had modified the cent design in 1839 (apparently intended for use in 1840) and used the same basic Liberty design for his half cent. The reverse continued with very few alterations the John Reich design first used on the 1809 Classic Head Half Cent. Both obverse and reverse have a classic simplicity, with just a few elements in the uncluttered designs.

Production

Though Braided Hair Half Cents were produced every year from 1840 through 1849, only starting in 1849 were the coins made for circulation; early 1840s issues were Proof only, made for presentation sets or collectors.

Increased demand by 1849, after several years of draw-downs from the Mint’s stockpile of 1834 and 1835 Braided Hair Half Cents, resulted in restarted mintage for circulation.

Except for Proofs, production halted in 1852 as demand for the denomination again weakened, and sufficient 1851 Braided Hair Half Cents were on hand for distribution. Although resumed with 1853 circulation issues (but no Proofs for that year) official production of the half cent ended with the 1857 issue, by the Act of February 21, 1857.

Unofficial Proof Restrikes of the 1840s dates and 1852 were made in the late 1850s by Mint employees, a practice halted by Mint Director James Ross Snowden in 1860, only to be resumed briefly in the late 1860s by Director Henry R. Linderman; after which the dies were destroyed. After a half-century hiatus, the denomination almost returned in the early 20th century–along with the Three-Cent Piece–as a result of legislation that passed the U.S. House in 1912. The bill died in the Senate, however, leaving the 1857 coins the last of the denomination.

How Much Are Braided Hair Half Cents Worth?

More than 12,000 business strike Braided Hair Half Cents have been certified for all dates, along with several hundred grading events reported for Proof issues. Mint State and unimpaired Proofs are described as Brown (BN), Red-Brown (RB), or Red (RD), with RB examples less common than BN, and RD being the scarcest.

Prices are modest for many issues up to and including MS63 (MS64 for BN examples) but are expensive finer than that, particularly for RB and the scarce or rare RD examples.

Fewer than 20 Proof Original and Restrike examples are certified for many years (more for the 1850s), also with the Brown (BN), Red-Brown (RB), and Red (RD) designations; there are also very few Cameo pieces. All Proof Braided Hair Half Cents are expensive, both Original and Restrike, with Original pieces generally higher priced. Examples graded PR63 and finer are very expensive, and the 1851 pieces are very expensive in all grades.

Braided Hair Half Cent Date-by-Date Analysis by CoinWeek

Design

Obverse:

A left-facing, neoclassical Liberty is in the center of the obverse. Curled and flowing hair is swept back in rope-like braids to a bun tied by beaded cords, with locks draped over the ear and down the back of the neck. A coronet worn above the ear and forehead displays the word LIBERTY. Thirteen six-pointed stars and the date at the bottom form a circle inside denticles located next to the flat rim.

Reverse:

The reverse displays the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA as a mostly complete circle concentric with denticles and the flat rim. Inside of that is another circle formed by a laurel branch with berries, the ends tied by a ribbon at the bottom. In the center is the denomination written as HALF CENT, each word on a separate line. All Braided Hair Cents were minted at Philadelphia and display no mintmark.

Varieties

Several varieties are known, including Restrikes dated 1840 through 1849, and 1852 (Large Berries and Small Berries reverses); the 1849 Large Date and Small Date; and other, more minor die variations.

Coin Specifications

Braided Hair Half Cent
Years of Issue: 1840-57
Mintage (Circulation): High: 147,672 (1851); Low: 35,180 (1857; none minted 1840-1848, 1852)
Mintage (Proof): High: 275 (1857, estimated); Low: 25 (several years, estimated; none known for 1853)
Alloy: 100% copper
Weight: 5.44 g
Diameter: 23.00 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht

 

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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.

Eckberg, William R. The Half Cent, 1793-1857: The Story of America’s Greatest Little Coin. Early American Coppers.

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

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

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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