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Liberty Seated Half Dollar, Arrows at Date (1854-1855) | CoinWeek

1854 Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1854 Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

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

The California Gold Rush so upset the balance of the gold-to-silver ratio that the cost of silver compared to gold had risen to such a point that eager speculators saw profits from melting silver coins and converting the bullion into gold coins. Because of this, the United States faced a coin shortage, with old copper coins, Three-Cent Silver billon coins, and gold coins in circulation.

To halt the melting of silver coins caused by this situation, United States Mint Director George N. Eckert sought Congressional approval to reduce 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 saving the newly struck coins from the crucible.

To distinguish the new lighter-weight Liberty Seated Half Dollars from the halves of the old tenor, arrows were added to each side of the date on the obverse, and rays were added around the eagle on the reverse.

However, striking the arrows and rays caused excessive die wear and led to early die failure. For 1854, the Mint eliminated the rays, creating the Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Motto, Arrows at Date, No Rays type.

Assuming the public had had enough time to adjust to the change in tenor, the Mint reverted the reverse die to its pre-1853 design in 1856 but continued striking coins at the new lower weight. The half dollar would see no additional design changes until 1866 when Congress mandated that the motto IN GOD WE TRUST be added to the coin.

How Much Are Liberty Seated Half Dollars with Arrows at the Date Worth?

Despite being 170 years old and made of .900 silver, 1854 Liberty Seated Half Dollars are affordable and available in all circulated grades. A Good to Very Good example with minimal impairment will typically sell for no more than $60. Examples in Extra Fine, which show most of the coin’s design elements, might cost $120-$140 and are enjoyable to collect. Coins in About Uncirculated condition will cost double or more the cost of an Extra Fine, but these coins tend to be brighter, show only slight wear, and are ideal for the picky collector who does not want to pay the premiums of a Choice or Gem Mint State example.

We wouldn’t call Mint State examples rare, but it is important to realize that the three major grading services (CAC, NGC, and PCGS) have combined to certify fewer than 400 from each of the two common dates (1854 and 1854-O). This explains why prices for MS63 1854 or 1854-O Liberty Seated Half Dollars often double the price of coins in AU58. Even for these common dates, Gems are scarce and are priced accordingly.

Higher priced coins are the 1855/1854 (also listed as 1855/854 and 1855/54) and the 1855-S, the latter extremely rare in Mint State.

Proof versions of the Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Motto, Arrows at Date, and No Rays type were struck in limited quantities. These coins are rare and command prices over $40,000 for unimpaired examples.

Extended Coverage on CoinWeek

NGC analyzes a counterfeit 1854-O Liberty Seated Half Dollar that the company’s graders had encountered and offers detection tips to collectors.

Writing for PCGS, CoinWeek contributor Josh McMorrow-Hernandez goes into more detail regarding the origins of the arrow “privy marks” by the date.

Design

Obverse:

The obverse shows Lady Liberty seated on a rock in flowing robes, head turned back to her right, with long locks of curled hair cascading down her back and across the shoulder, and tied with a barely discernible band. Her left arm is bent, holding a pole topped by a liberty cap, while the extended right arm supports a Union shield leaning against the rock. Across the center of the shield is a curved banner with the word LIBERTY. Thirteen six-pointed stars form a circle around the top two-thirds of the coin, inside a denticulated rim, seven stars to the left, five to the right, and one between Liberty’s head and the liberty cap. The date is centered at the bottom, with a short arrowhead on each side.

Reverse:

The reverse has a centered left-facing eagle, with extended but partly folded wings. The eagle clutches three arrows in the left claw and an olive branch in the right, though fletching is shown for only two of the three arrows. A shield is placed over the chest. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA forms a concentric arc to the inside of the top two-thirds of the denticulated rim, with the denomination of HALF DOL. at the bottom visually completing the circle.

Liberty Seated Half Dollars, No Motto, With Arrows, No Rays were minted at Philadelphia and New Orleans in 1854 and 1855, and at San Francisco in 1855. “O” and “S” mintmarks appear on the reverse, below the eagle, and above the denomination. No mintmark is shown on the Philadelphia issue.

Edge:

The edge of the Liberty Seated Half Dollar is reeded.

Varieties

A few varieties have been identified, the most significant of which is the 1855 Over 1854, known in both business strike and Proof configurations.

Coin Specifications

Liberty Seated Half Dollar, Arrows at Date
Years Of Issue: 1854-55
Mintage (Business Strikes): High: 5,240,000 (1854-O); Low: 129,950 (1855-S)
Mintage (Proofs): High: 30 (1854, estimated); Low: 15 (1855, estimated).
Alloy: .900 silver, .100% copper
Weight: 12.44 g
Diameter: 30.60 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht (from a Thomas Sully drawing), modified by Robert Ball Hughes and James B. Longacre
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht (from a Thomas Sully drawing), modified by Robert Ball Hughes and James B. Longacre

 

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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.

Dannreuther, John W. and Harry W. Bass, Jr. Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties; A Study of Die States, 1795-1834. Whitman Publishing.

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

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

Wiley, Randy and Bill Bugert. The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars. DLRC Press.

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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