After the weight of the half dime was reduced in 1853 (indicated by an arrow on either side of the date through 1855, then dropped from the motif), the design was unchanged until 1860. In that year Chief Engraver James B. Longacre replaced the thirteen obverse stars with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and replaced the simple laurel reverse wreath with a more detailed cereal wreath. An additional change was not one of design but of production. The last New Orleans half dimes were minted in 1860, a year before the formation of the Confederacy and the outbreak of the Civil War; and starting in 1863 and for every year thereafter, except one, half dimes were minted at the San Francisco branch mint.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The San Francisco Mint had dies available to produce half dimes in 1870, but none were struck according to official records. However, collectors were surprised by the discovery of an 1870-S half dime in the late 1970s. Apparently purchased from a “junk box”, or over-the-counter as a common type coin from an Illinois dealer (accounts differ), the half dime was displayed at the 1978 American Numismatic Association convention. It is also possible but not established that another 1870-S half dime may be in the cornerstone of the second San Francisco Mint building, along with other San Francisco Mint 1870-dated coins that were known to have been placed there.
Other half dime oddities, rare but not unique, are pieces made in 1859 and 1860 by Anthony C. Paquet. These pieces combine a hollow-center Stars obverse with the laurel reverse (1859) and the new cereal-wreath reverse (1860). Paquet’s samples have been called both transitional and fantasy pieces, not intended to circulate, but produced either as patterns to test the coming new design or minted for personal reasons by the Mint Director. Half dimes were not listed as an authorized issue in the Coinage Act of 1873, which effectively ended the denomination after nearly eighty years of production.
On the obverse a full-length representation of Liberty wears long, flowing robes and is seated on a rock, head turned back to her right. Her left arm is bent and holds a pole topped by a Liberty cap. The right arm extends down at her side, hand supporting a Union shield across which is a slightly curved banner displaying LIBERTY. The date is centered at the bottom, below the rock upon which Liberty rests. Inside dentils along the raised rim is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, split UNITED STATES to the left of Liberty and OF AMERICA to the right.
The reverse has a concentric circle of dentils inside a raised rim, within which is another circle formed by an elaborate wreath comprised of leaves and seed heads of corn, wheat, oak, and maple (no maple seeds are apparent). A ribbon ties the ends of the plants at the bottom, and there is a slight gap between the seed heads at the top, though two leaves cross to complete the enclosure around the denomination HALF DIME, each word on a separate line. Legend half dimes were produced at Philadelphia (all years), New Orleans (1860), and San Francisco (1863-1873). The S and O mintmarks are at the bottom below the wreath, though S mintmarks from 1870 through early 1872 appear within the wreath, above the bow and below DIME.
Several hundred circulation strike Liberty Seated, Legend half dimes have been certified for most dates, including a few prooflike pieces, though fewer from the mid-1860s through the end of that decade. Prices are moderate through Gem grades and finer for many dates, though expensive at Superb Gem. Higher prices are listed for the 1861/0, and coins minted from 1863 through 1867. The only known 1870-S coin would likely sell for well over a million dollars, perhaps much higher, if placed on the market today. A few hundred proof Legend half dimes have been certified, including Cameo and Deep Cameo pieces. Prices are fairly uniform and moderate for all dates up to Gem, expensive finer. Cameo and Deep Cameo pieces have slightly higher premiums.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht modified by Robert Ball Hughes and James B. Longacre (reverse by Longacre), from a Titian Peale/ Thomas Sully design
Circulation Mintage: high 3,360,000 (1861), low 8,000 (1867; none reportedly minted at San Francisco in 1870, but one example is known)
Proof Mintage: high 1,000 (1860, 1861, and 1870), low 460 (1863)
Denomintion: $0.05 Five Cents, 05/100 Half Dime
Diameter: ±15.5 mm; reeded edge
Metal content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: ±1.24 grams
Varieties: A few known, including 1859 and 1860 Hollow Stars transitional pieces, 1861 1 over 0, 1872-S Mintmark Above and Mintmark Below, and other minor die variations.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.