HomeCollecting StrategiesClassic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each, Part 31: Liberty Seated...

Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each, Part 31: Liberty Seated Half Dimes

Liberty Seated Half Dimes

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #386

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds …..
Overall, there are nine design types of half dimes, five of which are in the series of Liberty Seated half dimes. It is somewhat easy to collect these ‘by date’ (including U.S. Mint locations) for less than $500 each. Except for the unique 1870-S, this set can be completed with most coins grading above EF-40.

Collectors on tight budgets may acquire lower-grade coins for less than $150 each, though could not complete the set without spending more than $200 for a few coins. Even with a $500 per coin limit, a collector would probably have to settle for very low-grade 1846, 1864, 1865, 1866 and/or 1867 half dimes.

This discussion is for beginning to intermediate-level collectors. People who are unfamiliar with Liberty Seated coins in general may wish to refer to my recent discussion on assembling a type set of Liberty Seated coins for less than $500 each. The current discussion is geared towards collectors who assemble sets ‘by date’, as have been most of the installments in this series on collecting Classic U.S. coins for less than $500 each.

In part 27, it was shown that it is very easy to finish a set of Capped Bust half dimes. Liberty Seated half dimes require more patience and a little more thought.

Also, while all Capped Bust half dimes were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, Liberty Seated half dimes were also minted in New Orleans and San Francisco. During the 19th century, Philadelphia Mint coins did not have mintmarks. An ‘O’ mintmark signifies New Orleans and an ‘S’ has referred to the San Francisco Mint ever since 1854.

Types of Half Dimes

  • Flowing Hair (1794-95);
  • Draped Bust, Small Eagle (1796-97);
  • Draped Bust, Heraldic Eagle (1800-05);
  • Capped Bust (1829-37);
  • Liberty Seated, No Stars (1837-38);
  • Liberty Seated, With Stars, No Drapery (1838-40);
  • Liberty Seated, With Stars, With Drapery, No Arrows (1840-1859, except 1854-55);
  • Liberty Seated, With Arrows (1853-55);
  • Liberty Seated, Legend on Obverse (front) – 1860-73

After 1873, there were no more regular issue half dimes. Liberty Seated half dimes were specified to be 90% silver and 10% copper. Although five cent nickels had the same face value as half dimes, neither Three Cent Nickels nor five cent nickels contain any silver.

War nickels are exceptions, as Jefferson nickels minted from the middle of 1942 until 1945 contained some silver. Nickel was then needed for military purposes.

In the 19th century, half dimes were in line with other silver denominations. While Liberty Seated silver dollars were also terminated in 1873, Liberty Seated dimes, quarters and halves continued to be struck until 1891. There are post-1873 rarities in all three of those series.

Not only is it less costly, it is easier in terms of time and effort to collect Liberty Seated half dimes than to collect Liberty Seated dimes, quarters or silver dollars. Although the unique 1870-S is out of reach, all other dates in the series are obtainable for less than $500 each, though relatively low-cost 1864, ’65, ’66 and ’67 coins might not become available for a while.


Liberty Seated coins are fairly credited to Christian Gobrecht, though artwork done by others was incorporated into Gobrecht’s designs. Half dimes were then specified to weigh 20+(5/8) grains (about 0.043 Troy ounce).

Stars were added to the design during 1838. The addition of “drapery” in 1840 refers to a representation of some kind of garment on Miss Liberty and noticeable about her elbow and forearm, near the pole. Although the 1840 to 1859 type (except 1854-55) is referred to as ‘With Drapery’, the differences between ‘No Drapery’ and ‘With Drapery’ coins involve far more than the addition of this “drapery”.

The “With Drapery” coins are of a new design type or subtype. Robert Ball Hughes changed the design of Miss Liberty. Her head and arms were enlarged. Her body was changed, too. Furthermore, she is wearing notably different clothes. While the shield on the ‘No Drapery’ coins tilts to the observer’s left, it is upright on the ‘With Drapery’ half dimes.

Although it is sometimes argued that 1859 half dimes constitute a one-year type, the design elements on regular-issue 1859 half dimes are only slightly different from those of preceding years. These are of the Gobrecht-Hughes design and should not be called Paquet half dimes. Anthony Paquet might well have been involved in effecting some changes, but his role regarding half dimes was minor.

In 1860, the design was changed by James Longacre. The legend, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” was moved from the reverse to the obverse. The letters in ‘half dime’ were reduced in size. A simple wreath was replaced by a wreath that featured a few agricultural products including corn and wheat.

On February 21, 1853, a law was passed that reduced the weight of all U.S. silver coins to be minted, except silver dollars. As a consequence of this law, arrows were added near the ‘year’ (date), on half dimes, dimes, quarters and half dollars. There is an historically important reason, which is explained in an article about 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ half dollars. As half dimes were discontinued in 1873, they were not part of the changes that related to yet another adding of arrows on the designs of dimes, quarters and half dollars, during 1873.

For half dimes, the specified weight was reduced in 1853 from 20.625 grains (about 0.043 Troy ounce) to 19.2 grains (about 0.04 Troy ounce). This difference of 0.003 grains was significant in that less hoarding occurred and more half dimes were spent. Silver as a metal was a tremendous factor in the monetary history of the U.S.

It is curious that the new weight in 1853 was one-25th of a Troy ounce. Arrows were part of the design of half dimes for three years, from 1853 to 1855. It was legal to mint coins without arrows for a few months in 1853. Transitions required time.

Liberty Seated, No Stars (1837-38)

There are only three dates in this design type: 1837 ‘Large Date’, 1837 ‘Small Date’ and 1838-O. On these two 1837 varieties, the numerals in the year (“date”) are spaced differently, are of different sizes and are of a different font. It is fair to categorize these as two different Philadelphia Mint dates of the same year and same design type.

Almost Uncirculated representatives of both may be acquired for less than $500 each. In April 2017, Heritage Auctions sold an NGC-graded AU-53 1837 ‘Large Date’ for $352.50. In February 2017, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded AU-55 1837 ‘Small Date’ for $423.

The 1838-O is a very scarce coin; it could possibly be rare. The following values are fair approximations of retail levels: VG-08 $210, VG-10 $275, Fine-12 $375; Fine-15 $450.

Liberty Seated, With Stars, No Drapery (1838-40)

Although large stars and small stars varieties of the 1838 are often itemized, the difference is minor. Only one 1838 of this type is needed for a set ‘by date’. A PCGS- or NGC-graded MS-63 coin could certainly be acquired for less than $500. Even so, for continuity in a set that must include some circulated coins, an AU-grade piece would be a better choice. In January 2017, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded AU-55 1838 ‘No Drapery’ half dime for $188.

As with the 1838, PCGS- or NGC-graded AU-55 1839 ‘No Drapery’ half dimes would be likely to sell at auction for less than $200. In June 2016, Heritage sold one for $170.38.

The 1839-O is a little scarcer than her Philadelphia Mint cousins. In March 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded AU-50 1839-O for $282.

As with many Liberty Seated half dimes, a certified MS-63 1840 could be bought for less than $500. These are scarcer in upper-circulated grades than in ‘mint state’ grades, though not as expensive. In November 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded AU-55 1840 for $164.50.

The 1840-O is a truly rare coin, meaning fewer than 500 survive in all grades. In July 2013, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-45 1840-O, with a CAC sticker, for $305.50. This could have been an excellent deal.

Liberty Seated, With Stars, With Drapery, No Arrows (1840-1859, except 1854-55)

It would not be efficient to itemize each date in this type here. Most of them may be purchased in AU grades for less than $160. On November 27, 2016, GreatCollections sold an NGC-graded MS-63 1841, with a CAC sticker, for $451.

The 1840-O ‘With Drapery’ is rare to very rare. In July 2014, Heritage auctioned an NGC-graded VF-35 1840-O for $411.25.

The 1842-O is a better date. There are not many recent auction appearances. The following are rough estimates of fair retail prices: VF-20 $155; VF-25 $215; VF-30 $385; EF-40 $490. Of course, surface quality, originality and/or eye appeal may affect demand and asking prices.

The 1844-O is a semi-key date. In September 2016, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded Fine-12 1844-O for $258.50. It might be difficult to find a significantly better 1844-O for less than $500.

The 1846 is a key, though it is not often discussed as such. If a gradable 1846 could be obtained for less than $500, it would probably grade AG-03 or Fair-02, maybe even Poor-01. A non-gradable 1846, with Very Good or better ‘details’, may be obtained for less than $500, though months or years of waiting may be required.

The 1848 “Medium Date” and the 1849 “Large Date” are often collected as two distinct dates. The numerals on the “Large Date” actually overlap the central design element, which is very odd. It is hard to discern the relative rarity of these two varieties.

The 1849 ‘Large Date’ is probably not nearly as rare in Very Fine to AU grades as data published by PCGS and NGC might suggest at a glance. A Very Fine grade 1849 “Large Date’ could be found for a price in the $100 to $150 range. An Extremely Fine grade coin might be priced somewhere between $150 and $250. It could take time to find one.

The 1849 normal date, 1849/6 overdate and 1849/8 overdate are all different and could be regarded as distinct dates, though no collector should feel obligated to collect them as three different dates. The overdate aspects are not blatant. The 1849/48 and the 1849/8/6 are similar enough such that they should be classified as the same ‘date’, the 1849/8 overdate.

These overdates are rare yet are worth only modest premiums. An Extremely Fine grade 1849/6 would probably retail for less than $200. An EF 1849/8 of either subvariety might retail for an amount between $200 and $300. On March 19, 2017, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded AU-58 “1849/8“ for $431.22.

The 1849-O is rare. In January 2014, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-25 1849-O for $203.50. In February 2015, an NGC-graded VF-30 1849-O brought $223.25 in a Heritage event.

The 1852-O is a better date. On July 9, 2017, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-45 1852-O for $271.70. An 1852-O that grades from VF-30 to VF-35 is likely to retail for less than $200, if found in the very near future.

Although not as rare as the 1846, the 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ is a key to the series of Liberty Seated half dimes. Curiously, these are nowhere near as rare as 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ half dollars, which are Great Rarities. There exist 1853, though not 1853-O, ‘No Arrows’ dimes and quarters.

In November 2016, a PCGS-graded VG-08 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ half dime went for $399.50 in a Stack’s-Bowers event. There are some never-certified Good to Very Good 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ half dimes that would be likely to sell at coin shows for less than $400 each. These, though, should be carefully inspected so that the prospective buyers have an idea of the positive and negative characteristics of each piece.

In May 2016, Heritage sold one in a PCGS Genuine holder, ‘Bent – Fine Details’, for $423. This 1853-O ‘No Arrows’ half dime may have problems in addition to having been ‘bent’.

Half dimes dating from 1856 to 1859 can all be obtained in AU grade for less than $300, for as a little as $100 in some cases. In April 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded AU-55 1857-O, with a CAC sticker, for $166.10. On March 5, 2017, this same firm sold a PCGS-graded MS-64 1858-O, with a CAC sticker, for $434.50.

Liberty Seated, With Arrows (1853-55)

Except the 1855-O, Almost Uncirculated grade representatives of all the ‘With Arrows’ dates could be acquired for less than $200 each. In November 2016, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded MS-63 1854 for $305.50.

In December 2014, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded AU-53 1854-O for $170.38. While the 1855-O is the scarcest date of the ‘With Arrows’ type, it is not difficult to find one. In February 2017, Stack’s-Bowers sold an NGC-graded AU-55 1855-O for $282.

Liberty Seated, Legend on Obverse (1860-73)

Except for the 1864, 1865, 1866 and 1867, all the half dimes of the last design type may be obtained in EF-40 or higher grades without spending as much as $500 on any one coin. The 1864 to 1867 Philadelphia Mint issues are key dates. These can be obtained in lower grades for less than $500 each.

The 1860 is common. On January 17, 2017, Heritage sold a PCGS-graded AU-58 1860 for $152.75. Last week, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded MS-64 1860 for $152.75.

On Nov. 16, 2014, GreatCollections sold an 1864 in a “PCGS Genuine” holder with “VG Details” for $265.10. Although this piece has been chemically cleaned in a serious manner, it has naturally retoned to a noticeable extent and may be welcome in a set of gradable, circulated coins. There are probably gradable, Good-04 to VG-08 1864 half dimes around that will or could sell for less than $500, maybe even less than $400. These may appear from time to time at medium size coin shows.

The 1865 is in the same category of rarity as the 1864. In business strike format, these are both rare, in that fewer than 500 of each survive. The 1866 is not quite as rare, though is still a key.

In May 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded Good-06 1865 for $329. In February 2015, Heritage sold a different, PCGS-graded Good-06 1865 for $376. There are not many records of public sales of 1865 half dimes below $500. Nonetheless, it is almost certain that AG-03 to VG-10 1865 half dimes appear at coin shows from time to time and are priced below $500.

In January 2014, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded Fine-12 1866 for $440.63. In March 2012, when market levels were higher than they are now, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded Good-04 1866 for $316.25.

Among half dimes with the legend on the obverse, the 1867 might be the scarcest date of all. Heavily worn, non-gradable 1867 half dimes sell for prices in the $300 to $450 range. A gradable Fair-02 to Good-04 1867 might very well sell for less than $500, though a collector should not count on such an 1867 becoming available in the near future. It may be necessary to chase any offered 1867 half dimes and tolerate imperfections encountered. The 1867 is rarer in low grades than most interested collectors realize.

Concluding Thoughts

Although PCGS- and NGC-graded coins are listed here, it is not implied that I am in agreement with the assigned grades. In this series of discussions about collecting classic U.S. coins for less than $500 each, I tend to mention public sales of coins that I have never seen.

It is important for collectors to learn a little about grading, to consult experts, and to not take certified grades too seriously. In many instances, it makes sense to pay premiums for coins with stickers of approval from CAC. Regarding grading, however, there will always be legitimate differences of opinion among experts.

While ignoring the unique 1870-S, it is surprisingly practical to complete a set of Liberty Seated half dimes ‘by date’. It may take months or years to acquire the six keys: 1846, 1853-O ‘No Arrows’, 1864, 1865, 1866 and 1867. Key date half dimes acquired for less than $500 may not be wonderful coins. A few low-grade pieces notwithstanding, the vast majority of the coins in the set can be found in EF-40 to AU-55 grades for less than $500 each.

For many dates, certified MS-63 or MS-64 grade coins may be acquired for less than $500 each. A set that has some Good-04 to Fine-12 grade coins, however, and several MS-64 grade coins may appear awkward. The Philadelphia Mint issues from 1864 to 1867 in such a set are apt to have been heavily circulated, and would not fit well into a set with many ‘mint state’ half dimes. For sets of half dimes with a $500 per coin limitation, I recommend coins that grade from VF-30 to AU-55 for consistency and because these are good values for collectors in the current market environment.

If necessary, collectors may consider uncertified 1864 to 1867 Philadelphia Mint half dimes, those that may be found on occasion at coin shows around the nation. Although some of these uncertified coins have serious problems, which might not be readily apparent, searching for raw coins could be the most practical method for obtaining at least a couple of the keys. Hunting for rarities is often fun.

© 2017 Greg Reynolds

[email protected]

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Recent Articles in the Series on Classic U.S. Coins for Less Than $500 Each:

Three Cent Silvers | Barber Quarters | Set of Liberty Seated Types | Capped Bust Half Dimes | Capped Bust Quarters | Liberty Head Nickels | Barber Dimes | Proof Shield Nickels | Braided Hair Half Cents | Matron Head Large Cents | Classic Head Half Cents | 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 | Bust 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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