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Liberty Seated Half Dollar, Arrows and Rays (1853) | CoinWeek

1853 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, Arrows and Rays. Image: David Lawrence Rare Coins / CoinWeek.
1853 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, Arrows and Rays. Image: David Lawrence Rare Coins / CoinWeek.

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

With vast quantities of California gold arriving in the nation’s commercial centers, the balance of the gold-to-silver ratio had become so disturbed that speculators saw profits in melting down silver coins and being paid for the bullion in gold. As a result, the United States faced a coin shortage, with only copper coins, Three-Cent Silver billon coins, and gold coins in circulation.

To alleviate the situation, Mint Director George N. Eckert pushed Congress to authorize a reduction in the silver content of every silver coin denomination except the dollar. Congress agreed and passed the Coinage Act of February 21, 1853.

The Act reduced the weight of the half dollar from 13.36 to 12.44 grams, thus eliminating the profit motive for wholesale melting. To identify coins of the new tenor, Eckert ordered the Mint to add arrowheads to each side of the date and a glory of rays to the coin’s reverse. The first coins to bear the new design were Proofs struck on March 3, 1853.

Business strike coinage of the new type began on May 21 with the first delivery of 80,000 coins by the Philadelphia Mint (they would strike this type for the remainder of the year). The rays dramatically shortened the life of the dies, and it took 49 obverse and 53 reverse dies for Philadelphia to strike 3,532,708 coins, and 26 obverse and 19 dies for the New Orleans Mint to strike 1,328,000.

What Are 1853 Liberty Seated Half Dollars with Arrows and Rays Worth?

The 1853 Liberty Seated Half Dollar With Arrows and Rays is popular with collectors as a one-year type. With its higher mintage, the 1853 struck at Philadelphia is slightly more affordable than the 1853-O in circulated grades, and considerably more affordable in Mint State.

A recent survey of eBay listings shows that collectors have been able to purchase wholesome examples of the 1853 (plain) in Very Fine to Extra Fine grades for prices ranging from, $200 to $500 USD. Certified examples in grades lower than Fine are available for $150 or less. Choice Mint State coins sell for $3,000 and up, while Gems can sell for $10,000 or more. When buying a rare coin, be sure to purchase through a reputable dealer with a fair return policy and, when possible, choose coins graded by CAC, NGC, or PCGS to ensure grading accuracy and that the coin is authentic.

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The classic obverse design of Seated Liberty coinage was created by Christian Gobrecht, the third Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. It features Lady Liberty sitting on a nondescript prop, of which we can deduce little. Her head is turned to her right, which leaves her long hair cascading over her left shoulder. Like many such representations, Liberty wears sandals and a long dress inspired by classical art. In her left hand, she holds a pole atop a Liberty cap. Her right hand slightly cradles a heraldic shield with the word LIBERTY on a scroll across it. Beneath the ground upon which Liberty’s seat is positioned, the date 1853 is found in the exergue. Thirteen six-pointed stars arc along the top half of the coin. Denticles surround the entire design.


An eagle graces the reverse. Its head is also turned to its right; its wings are spread out but down. It holds three sharp arrows in its left talon and an olive branch in its right. An escutcheon based on the U.S. flag covers its breast. Completely surrounding it is a glory of sun rays. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA arcs clockwise around the top of the coin, the abbreviated denomination HALF DOL. runs counterclockwise along the bottom. As with the obverse, denticles surround the entire side.

Coin Specifications

Liberty Seated Half Dollar, Arrows and Rays
Years Of Issue: 1853
Mintage (Business Strikes): High: 3,532,708 (1853); Low: 1,328,000 (1853-O)
Alloy: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
Weight: 12.4 g
Diameter: 30.0 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Thomas Sully | modified by Christian Gobrecht and Robert Ball Hughes
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht


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Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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