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Liberty Cap Half Cent, Head Facing Right (1794-1797) | CoinWeek

1794 Liberty Cap, Head Facing Right Half Cent. C-9. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek
1794 Liberty Cap, Head Facing Right Half Cent. C-9. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek

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

The half cent was a copper coin struck by the United States Mint from 1793 through 1857. Although it had the lowest face value of any coin ever produced by the United States, the half cent had the purchasing power of a dime today.

The Mint Act of April 2, 1792, authorized the production of the half cent, though the denomination had a troubled early history. Never popular with the public (which preferred the cent as well as the Mint’s subsidiary silver coinage), the coin was struck in modest quantities from 1793 to 1797, when it was put on hiatus until 1800. The coin was struck off and on during the 19th century before Congress abolished the denomination in 1857.

Slightly smaller than a modern quarter, the Liberty Cap Half Cent, Head Facing Right debuted in 1794 and was seemingly issued for just four years. The design type replaced engraver Henry Voigt’s Liberty Cap Half Cent, Head Facing Left design of 1793 and the Draped Bust type of 1800-1808.

Half cents dated 1798 and 1799 were not made, though the denomination was produced in 1799 and 1800 using 1797-dated dies. Some half cents produced in 1800 were struck on cents dated 1797 and 1798, and possibly 1800.

During the production of the Liberty Cap Half Cent, Head Facing Right, the denomination’s weight was changed to account for rising copper prices. When the design debuted, the half cent measured 23.5 millimeters in diameter and weighed 6.74 grams. Midway through 1795, the Mint lowered the coin’s weight to 5.44 grams and reduced the thickness of the planchet. This size and weight standard remained constant until 1840 when a slightly smaller planchet was used to strike Braided Hair Half Cents.

Inspiration Behind the Liberty Cap Half Cent Design

United States Mint Chief Engraver Robert Scot adapted the Liberty Cap Head Facing Right design from Henry Voigt’s design of 1793 but flipped the head’s facing from left to right. Both engravers borrowed the design from French medalist Augustin Dupré and his iconic Libertas Americana medal, commissioned 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 coin’s relief 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 transfer hub details to the die completely, 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.

Production Problems Plague the Mint

Annual recurrences of yellow fever in the 1790s took a heavy toll on Mint staff. Joseph Wright, a talented artist from New Jersey who was handpicked by President George Washington to serve as the Mint’s first engraver, succumbed to the disease along with his wife. Each year, the Mint shut down for part of the summer to protect the 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 or 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 cents that were not rolled to correct half cent thickness.

How Much Are Liberty Cap Half Cents Worth?

Fewer than 2,000 Liberty Cap, Head Facing Right Half Cents are listed in population reports, and many varieties are scarce or rare. Despite this, most dates are not beyond the reach of the average collector in grades up to Fine. Liberty Cap Half Cents become prohibitively expensive in Gem Mint State and finer. The 1795 Lettered Edge Punctuated Date and the 1797 Lettered Edge are slightly to moderately more expensive than most other varieties. All low-mintage 1796 varieties and the 1797 Gripped Edge are rare and very expensive, extremely so in Mint State.

Notable Liberty Cap Half Cent Collectors

The Liberty Cap Half Cent has been a collector favorite since the mid-19th century when the denomination was discontinued by Congress. Recent noteworthy collectors include Del Loy Hansen, James R. McGuigan, Eric P. Newman, Donald G. Partrick, D. Brent Pogue, and R. Tettenhorst (Bernard Edison).



A right-facing, somewhat classical rendition of Liberty dominates the uncluttered obverse inside a denticulated rim. Liberty’s hair 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 pole segment is visible at the bottom of the cap, and the end extends diagonally from the lower neck truncation nearly to the coin’s edge.


The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA runs clockwise around the coin, inside of and generously separated from a denticulated rim. Two laurel branches with individual berries form an interior circle tied by a ribbon at the bottom. Inside this wreath, the coin’s value is enumerated with the denomination HALF CENT. This value is repeated as the fraction 1/200 below the bow.


The edge of the thick planchet Liberty Cap Half cent, Head Facing Right is lettered with the inscription TWO HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR. Thin planchet half cents may be lettered, plain, or gripped.


Several varieties of the Liberty Cap, Head Facing Right Half Cent are known for each of the three dates in this series. The Guide Book of United States Coins (the Red Book) lists two varieties for 1794, four varieties for 1795, two varieties for 1796, and five varieties for 1797. Specialist literature enumerates additional varieties and provides greater insight into the Guide Book listings.

Given the method of manufacture of early United States coins, most varieties of this period have obvious characteristics that can be picked up without magnification. Among those listed are 1795 Liberty Cap Half Cents with plain and lettered edges; 1795 Liberty Cap Half Cents with a “punctuated” date; 1796 Liberty Cap Half Cents with and without pole; the 1797 Liberty Cap Half Cent with a 1 over the 1; and 1797 Liberty Cap Half Cents with either a centered head or a low head.

In the article above, classic U.S. coin expert and CoinWeek contributor Greg Reynolds thoroughly discussed the 1796 No Pole and With Pole varieties within the context of the sale of the Missouri Half Cent Collection assembled by R. Tettenhorst.

Coin Specifications

Liberty Cap, Head Facing Right Half Cent
Years of Issue: 1794-97
Mintage (Circulation): High: 139,690 (1795); Low: 1,390 (1796)
Alloy: Copper
Weight: 1794-95: ±6.74 g (thick planchet); 1795-97: ±5.44 g (thin planchet)
Diameter: ±23.5 mm
Edge: Lettered: TWO HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR; Thin planchet may be lettered, plain, or gripped
OBV Designer: Robert Scot (modified by John Smith Gardner)
REV Designer: Robert Scot (modified by John Smith Gardner)


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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 Early United States Half Cents, 1793-1857. American Institute of Numismatic Research.

-. 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, Inc.

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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