HomeUS CoinsLiberty Seated Half Dollar, No Motto (With Drapery) 1839-1866 | CoinWeek

Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Motto (With Drapery) 1839-1866 | CoinWeek

1849 Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1849 Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

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

The Liberty Seated design was first seen on Christian Gobrecht’s silver dollar in 1836, the inaugural year of a transitional type that was produced for only three years and ended in 1839 (no dollars were struck in 1837). Gobrecht’s Flying Eagle reverse was not put into use on the other silver circulating denominations, but was the basis of the obverse of the Flying Eagle Cent of 1856-58.

For the half dollar, the Liberty Seated Half Dollar type debuted in 1839 and was produced for over 50 years. It was eventually retired in favor of United States Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber’s design of 1892. More half dollars were produced in the 19th century of this type than any other design.

What Does “With Drapery” Mean?

The first Liberty Seated Half Dollar did not have an extra fold of drapery hanging forward from Liberty’s left elbow, and Liberty was seated on a larger rock. The With Drapery Liberty Seated Half Dollar, also introduced in 1839, has extra drapery and Liberty rests on a draped chair.

No Motto Liberty Seated Half Dollar Sub-Types

There are three additional subtypes in the With Drapery series. Rising silver prices that followed the influx of California gold into the monetary system in the late 1840s and early ’50s created a situation where the bullion value of silver coins was greater than their face value. To halt the resultant melting of silver coins, Congress passed the Act of February 21, 1853, lowering the weight of all silver coins except the dollar. To distinguish the new half dollar, an arrow was added to each side of the date on the obverse, and rays were added around the eagle on the reverse. Because of excessive die wear, and to minimize the time needed to prepare dies, the rays were eliminated for 1854 and 1855 issues. Finally, the arrows were dropped from 1856 and subsequent half dollars, creating a fourth type of the No Motto design. The coin remained essentially unchanged until the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse in 1866. All half dollars from 1853 (Arrows type) through 1866 were at the lower 12.44-gram weight.

The Confederate Half Dollar of 1861

Half dollars struck at the New Orleans branch mint in 1861 were produced under three different minting authorities.

The first 330,000 coins were produced by the U.S. Government. The next 1,240,000 coins were minted by the State of Louisiana after it seceded from the Union, and the final 962,633 pieces were minted by the Confederate States of America after Louisiana joined the Confederacy. Because all of the issues were struck from U.S. dies there is no known way to distinguish which coins were produced under a specific authority, with one exception: some coins were produced using a cracked obverse die, the same die used to strike four 1861 Confederate half dollars. Those half dollars display a CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA reverse, and all were struck on genuine 1861 U.S. half dollars with the obverse preserved (though softened somewhat from the striking process). Restrikes of this Confederate version were made following the 1879 discovery of the original Confederate die, along with white metal tokens displaying the Confederate reverse and a text inscription on the obverse.

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

Several thousand Liberty Seated With Drapery business strike half dollars have been certified, though in general there are fewer listings of the pre-1853 and the post-1861 Civil War era issues. Prices are moderate for most issues up to Select Uncirculated, but examples are expensive as near-Gem and finer. A few Prooflike pieces have been certified.

Higher priced coins are the 1840-O Reverse of 1838; the 1842-0 Reverse of 1839; the 1844-O Doubled Date, the 1846 6 over Horizontal 6; the 1847/6; the 1853-O No Arrows, the 1855/54; the 1855-S; the 1857-S; and the 1866-S No Motto. There are three known examples of the 1853-O No Arrows Half Dollars, though there is no official record that any were minted. All examples are expensive, approaching the half-million dollar mark as Extremely Fine.

Most Proof examples are scarce to rare, particularly those produced before 1859. Cameo and Deep Cameo examples have been certified. In general, Proofs dated 1852 or earlier are expensive, with those from 1856 through 1858 less so. Proofs from 1859 through 1865 are moderately priced below near-Gem grades and expensive finer than that. Arrows and Rays Proofs of 1853 are expensive at all grades, extremely so as near-Gem and finer; and 1854, 1855, and 1855/44 Arrows Proofs are expensive at all grades.

Varieties

Many varieties are identified, including overdates, doubled dates, and letter size changes. Those listed in census/population reports include 1840 Small and Medium Letters Reverse; 1842 Small and Medium Date and Large Letters; 1844-O Doubled Date; 1845 Doubled Date; 1846 6 over horizontal 6; 1847/6; 1861 Confederate overstrikes; and others with repunches and variation in the size and placement of device features.

Design

Obverse:

The obverse shows Liberty seated on a rock in flowing robes, head turned back to her right, 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 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. Coins from the latter part of 1853 through 1855 have two arrowheads, one on each side of the date; those from 1856 forward have no arrowheads.

Reverse:

The reverse has a centered left-facing eagle, with extended but partly folded wings. The eagle clutches an olive branch in the right claw and three arrows in the left, though fletching is shown for only two of the three arrowheads. A shield is placed over the eagle’s 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 HALF DOL. at the bottom visually completing the circle. On the 1853 Liberty Seated Half Dollar, lines of varying lengths radiate outward from around the eagle nearly to the encircling text (three examples of 1853-O half dollars with no rays are known).

Liberty Seated With Drapery Half Dollars were minted at Philadelphia (all years), New Orleans (1840-1861), and San Francisco (1855-1866). O and S mintmarks appear on the reverse, below the eagle and above the denomination.

Coin Specifications

Liberty Seated Half Dollar, No Motto
Years of Issue: 1839-66
Mintage (Business Strikes): High: 7,294,000 (1858-O); Low: 5 (1853-O No Arrows, estimated; only 3 pieces known)
Mintage (Proof): High 1,000 (1860, 1861); low: 5 (many years, estimated)
Alloy: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
Weight: ±13.36 g; 12.44 g from the latter part of 1853 forward
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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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.

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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1 COMMENT

  1. The 1861-O half dollars can be distinguished between U.S. minted, Louisiana minted, and C.S.A. minted. See Bill Bugert’s “A Register of Liberty Seated Half Dollar Varieties, Volume IV, New Orleans Branch Mint, 1853-O With Arrows to 1861-O”. Also, there are now 4 known 1853-O No Arrows half dollars.

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