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Half Cents

Seated Liberty Dollar (1840-1873)

The dollar coin used to be one of the foundational coins of U.S. currency. These were sanctioned originally in the Coinage Act of 1792 and first minted in 1794. Though they were forced out of circulation a couple of times over the course of their run and are no longer commonly used, Silver dollar coins have proved enduringly popular with collectors even after their run in circulation ended. The Liberty Seated variety ran from 1840 to 1873, when the Mint stopped striking traditional dollar coins for U.S. circulation.

Seated Liberty Dollar Design

The Liberty Seated series had a picture of Liberty sitting on a rock, holding a Liberty pole with a Phrygian cap on the top (this symbol of freedom can be seen prominently in Capped Bust coins). The reverse on smaller coins had a wreath of laurel leaves through 1860 and on larger coins such as the quarter, half dollar and dollar this design had an eagle. After 1860 the wreath was expanded to include other plants.

This coin saw a number of small variations over the course of its minting, including different number sizes, changes to the drapery around Liberty, number and size of stars and more. The Liberty Seated survived through the Civil War, though many hoarded coins during this time period. Mintages for the Civil War years are dramatically lower than those immediately preceding the war period.

These coins stayed in production till 1873, but their Silver content outweighed their face value by the 1850s and they circulated far less. New coinage laws in 1873 had no provision for the Silver dollar, and production of these dollars for U.S. circulation did not occur until the Bland-Allison Act of 1878. The Trade dollar created for export filled the gap and saw limited circulation until it was barred from legal tender.

Historical Significance

Early U.S. coins were not the only coins the post-colonial America had. French, Spanish and English coins circulated freely and were accepted as legal tender, and the mintage of new U.S. money did not stop these from circulating. The dollar circulated but competed against these coins, particularly the early Bust dollars. These were important because they were among the first U.S. coins minted, but in terms of day-to-day living at the time of their mintage their impact was muted.

The Coinage Act of 1857 occurred while the Liberty Seated was being minted. Businesses which had previously accepted any form of money as legal tender now would only accept U.S. coins, and that drove demand far exceeding that of previous years. That set the stage for our current monetary system.

Numismatic Value

Liberty Seated half dollars can get expensive, and the price rises rapidly for higher grades. There are some very expensive and rare examples from branch mints, especially the unique Carson City variants. The 1870S is an extremely rare variant that can sell for over a million dollars in high grades.

The higher populations of series like the Liberty Seated as opposed to earlier dollars make them a much easier prospect for intermediate collectors. Early examples of U.S. coinage including the dollar are not easy to get one’s hands on.

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