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Classic U.S. Coins for less than $500 each, Part 20: Classic Head Half Cents


News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #336

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
This is the 20th installment of a series on classic U.S. coins that cost less than $500 each. In April, Draped Bust half cents were discussed. Those were minted from 1800 to 1808. The present topic is Classic Head half cents, 1809 to 1835.

Except for the key 1811 and the scarce 1810, it is easy to collect Extremely Fine to Almost Uncirculated grade, business strike Classic Head half cents while spending less than $500 per coin, usually less than $350. Collectors with a $500 per coin limit, however, may tend towards a Very Fine grade 1810 and a very low grade 1811.

As there is a controversy as to whether business strike 1831 half cents exist, these can certainly be ignored by someone collecting business strikes ‘by date.’ A set can fairly be considered complete without an 1831. A business strike set of the whole Classic Head half cent design type can be completed without spending more than $500 on any one coin, in a few years, perhaps in a matter of months.

The Nature of Half Cents

In diameter, half cents are a little larger than Jefferson nickels. All U.S. half cents were specified to be entirely copper. They were bright red when struck and tend to tone brown over time, with russet, green or blue tints. Impurities that were in the blanks or later floated to the surfaces may contribute to the forming of other colors, particularly shades of gray. Over a period of centuries, coins that are 95% to 100% copper will tend to turn green.

Multiple cleaning and artificial brightening techniques may each change the color of a copper coin, as may treatments for corrosion. Well-worn half cents, though, tend to be relatively original. Also, copper coins usually recover rather well from light to mild cleanings, and sometimes recover from dippings. Such recovery, if it occurs, can take more than a decade, possibly even a half a century. Generally, however, Very Fine to Extremely Fine grade Classic Head half cents are mostly original and are very desirable coins.

The record price for a Classic Head half cent is the $1.12 million paid for the Missouri-Tettenhorst-Pogue PCGS certified ‘MS-66RB’ 1811 in a Goldbergs auction on January 26, 2014. That million dollar half cent will probably be offered again this year or next year in another Pogue sale by Stack’s Bowers.

The so called 1811 “Mickley Restrikes” are ignored here. These were privately made, many decades after 1811. They are not genuine coins and are of interest to some long-time specialists in half cents. A restrike is not needed for a set assembled ‘by date.’

The references herein to auction or ‘Internet sales’ of specific half cents are put forth to provide general ideas regarding the values of half cents of each dates in relevant grade ranges. I have not seen the actual coins that are being referenced. None of the individually mentioned coins are being recommended, endorsed, praised or criticized.

Most pre-1840 U.S. coins have been mistreated at least a little, or have suffered from environmental hazards. Collectors should learn about the physical characteristics of such coins and seek advice from experts. Nevertheless, the risks are minor in regard to most of the coins mentioned here. There are hundreds or even thousands of appealing Classic Head half cents that are available for less than $500 each, often for less than $250.

For generations, Classic Head half cents have been respected by serious collectors. Half cents have never been nearly as popular as large cents. From a logical perspective, half cents are good deals for the collectors who appreciate them or wish to learn about them. Plus, half cents are curious and interesting parts of the history of U.S. coinage.

Collecting ‘By Date’

Most people who seek more than three or four Classic Head half cents collect them ‘by date.’ This discussion is aimed at beginners and intermediate-level collectors, not at people who have extensively studied references regarding early U.S. copper coins or have many years of experience with half cents. If a collector is considering the acquisitions of coins that he or she personally finds to be expensive, experts should be consulted regarding quality and originality.

While the claim that some 1831 half cents are business strikes is fascinating and might be true, this claim is extremely controversial. The PCGS population report lists a few business strikes, which may have been certified long ago. The NGC census does not allow for 1831 business strikes, though does report five “original” Proofs and nine restrike Proofs.

“In more than forty years, I have never seen an 1831 that I thought was definitely a business strike. They look so different,” asserts Charlie Browne.

halfcent500A beginner or intermediate-level collector should not acquire an 1831 that is represented as a business strike. The underlying subject matter is complicated and worrying about the status of an 1831 would dampen the fun of assembling a set of half cents. I would have to carefully examine more of those that are being represented as business strikes to draw my own conclusion.

The earliest Classic Head half cents tend to be more popular than the coins from the 1820s. In many ways, the U.S. Mint was still struggling to survive from 1809 to 1811, as was the young nation as a whole. The “War of 1812” was brutal and frightening.

Prepared blanks (planchets) for U.S. half cents and large cents were then produced by the firm of Matthew Boulton in England. As relations between the U.S. and Great Britain worsened, the director of the Philadelphia Mint became concerned about maintaining a supply of planchets and was reluctant to produce half cents at all.

“The last [Boulton] shipment of large cent planchets prior to 1814 arrived in June 1812, just as war was breaking out with England,” explained R. W. Julian in the February 6, 2014, issue of Numismatic News newspaper.

There are no genuine half cents dated from 1812 to 1824. During the early 1800s, more half cents were produced than were really needed for commerce.

According to Wikipedia and the U.S. Mint web site, Samuel Moore “was appointed by President James Monroe as Director of the United States Mint on July 15, 1824, holding this office until 1835.” Moore was geared towards the U.S. Mint further serving the general public, not just focusing upon requests for coins that came from banks.

So, Moore contacted Matthew Boulton and ordered half cent planchets in 1824. Planchets from the Boulton firm “were delivered in 1825 and coinage began though demand was still light,” notes R. W. Julian, in response to my inquiry.


Charlie Browne recollects seeing many 1809, 1810 and 1811 half cents during the course of his career. Charlie has been a self-employed dealer, a grader for wholesalers of very valuable coins, a grader for a leading auction firm, a teacher of grading at ANA seminars, and a grader for PCGS for a total of more than one hundred months.

“During the last 40 years, I have traveled often as a coin dealer, not just to major shows. I have spent a lot of time throughout New England, New York and Eastern Canada. I hardly ever saw 1809 or 1810 half cents that grade above VG-08. In Fine-12 to AU-50, these are great values at current prices. Most of the 1809, 1810 and 1811 half cents that I see are awful; many should not be given numerical grades,” Browne says.

Extremely Fine to Almost Uncirculated grade 1809 half cents may be found for less than $350 each. In March 2016, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-50 1809 for $282. It was reported to be from the “Joseph Friedberg Collection.” In April 2014, the firm called GreatCollections sold a NGC-graded AU-50 1809 for $236.58

There is a very curious 1809 variety that is characterized by a faint, small “zero” underneath the regular zero in the date (year). Presumably, the regular numeral zero on the obverse die was punched after a “zero” that was too small had already been punched.

A die is a hard-metal rod used in a coining machine to impress the design on one side of each planchet, which is a prepared blank circular piece of metal. Simultaneously, an obverse die imparts the front design and a reverse die imparts the tail design on a hot planchet that is sandwiched in between.

Is the apparent small ‘zero’ underneath really a numeral zero? Its nature is somewhat of a mystery.  On PCGS CoinFacts, Ron Guth implies that it would be a good idea to compare the faint, small ‘zero’ underneath these 1809 half cents with the zeroes in the dates of half eagles from the same time period.

It may be impossible to acquire an AU grade representative of the ‘1809-0/o’ variety for less than $500. A Fine-12 to -15 grade ‘0/o’ 1809 should cost less than $500, if one is available in the near future. In February 2012, HA sold a NGC-graded Good-04 representative of this variety for $55.

The ‘1809-0/o’ variety is much more apparent than the so called 1809, “9/Inverted 9.” The nature of this “Inverted 9” variety is far from clear. High magnification to required to discern much of it. Of course, those who collect half cents ‘by date’ may complete a set while ignoring this variety.

For those who wish to collect this ‘9 over inverted 9’ variety, it is easy to find one for less than $500. In March of this year, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-45 “9/Inverted 9” 1809 half cent for $223.25


pcgs181012cThe 1810 is a relatively scarce date. PCGS and NGC together have graded fewer than 270 of them. There are plenty of heavily circulated 1810 half cents that have never been submitted to PCGS or NGC. Even so, there are likely to be less than 1200 in existence, most of which grade less than Fine-15, if gradable at all.

In June 2015, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded VF-30 1810 for $376. On December 7, 2014, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-20 1810 for $330. Finding a VF grade 1810 for less than $500 should not be too difficult.


The 1811 is the key to the series. It would be difficult to acquire one for less than $500, though it is certainly realistic to expect to do so at some point over the next three or four years.

In November 2013, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded Good-06 1811 half cent for $470. In January 2014, for $364.25, Heritage auctioned an 1811 in an NGC holder with a label that indicates, ‘Good Details’ and ‘environmental damage.’ In March 2012, Stack’s Bowers sold a PCGS-graded AG-03 1811 for $461.15.


A PCGS- or NGC-graded EF-40 1825 could easily be acquired for a price below $300. In June 2015, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded EF-45 1825, with a CAC sticker, for $258.50.

There are no 1827 half cents. The 1826 and the 1828, with thirteen stars on the obverse, are valued around the same. An AU-53 grade representative of either should cost less than $250. An Extremely fine grade coin would probably cost less than $200.

The 1828, with 12 stars, is scarcer than the 1828 with 13 stars on the obverse. While it is not necessary to obtain representatives of both 12-star and 13-star varieties, those who collect half cents ‘by date’ often choose to obtain both. The scarcer 12-star variety is not much more expensive and the difference in appearance is very noticeable without a magnifying glass.

In July 2015, Stack’s Bowers sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1828, with 12 stars, for $223.25. Earlier, in November 2011, a PCGS-graded EF-45 coin of the same variety, brought $287.50.

AU grade 1829 half cents are easy to find for less than $500 each. Very recently, on April 10, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded AU-58 1929, with a CAC sticker, for $386.10. In February 2015, this same firm sold a NGC-graded AU-55 1829 for $181.50.


There are no 1830 half cents. As explained already, it is best to ignore the 1831.

“In my travels, I see many 1832 to 1835 half cents. Nice ones are usually available,” Charlie relates.

AU grade 1832 and 1833 half cents are likely to all cost less than $300 each in the present and near future. In November 2012, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-58 1833 for $202.40. Stack’s Bowers sold the exact same coin again, in March 2013, for $258.50. In the same event in March 2013, a PCGS grade AU-55 1833 went for $194.52.

The 1834 and the 1835 are common. These are often selections for type sets.

Last month, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded AU-58 1834 for $176.25. In March, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-55 1834 for the same exact price.

In July 2015, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-55 1835 half cent for $199.75 . In recent years, the same firm sold other certified AU-55 1835 half cents for lower amounts. A couple of those that brought lower amounts, however, have serious contact marks in central areas.

In August 2015, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-53 1835 half cent for $117.50. On February 9, 2014, a PCGS-graded EF-40 1835 was sold by GreatCollections for $95.70.

Although it may take a while to find an 1811, a whole set of business strikes ‘by date’ could be completed without spending more than $500 for any one coin. It is often enjoyable and satisfying to put together a set. In the culture of coin collecting in the U.S., completing a set of a 19th-century type is a noteworthy achievement.

©2016 Greg Reynolds

[email protected]
Recent Articles in this Series on Classic U.S. Coins for less than $500 each:

Draped Bust Half Cents | Classic Head Large Cents | Gem Early Lincoln Cents | Indian Head Half Eagles | Two Cent Pieces | Three Cent Nickels | Indian Head Quarter Eagles | Copper-Nickel Indian Cents | Standing Liberty Quarters | Walking Liberty Half Dollars

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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