The Early Half Dollar: The half dollar has been in existence since the 1790’s and are still being made today, although they see little use and are mostly made for collectors. Historically half dollars were made in fairly large quantities and were used in banking and commerce; consequently, many are available to collectors.
First authorized in 1792, the half dollar was not minted until 1794. Chief Coiner Henry Voigt and Assayer Albion Cox could not raise the $10,000 bond required to take office. For this reason, only copper coins were made in 1793. To ameliorate this situation, Thomas Jefferson wrote to President Washington asking him to request that Congress lower the bond requirement. He ultimately prevailed, and Robert Scot, the new Engraver made the dies for the half dollar.
The first half dollar was issued from 1794 to 1795. The Flowing Hair type showed Liberty facing right surrounded with 8 stars on the left of LIBERTY and 7 on the right with the date blow. The Small Eagle reverse showed a thin eagle looking right with outstretched wings. It is perched on a cloud and surrounded by a wreath tied in a bow at the bottom. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the design with dentils on both sides. The denomination is on the edge of the coin as FIFTY CENTS OR A HALF DOLLAR. Decorations are between the words. The design next type was the Draped Bust half dollar of 1796 to 1807. It showed a new portrait of a buxom Liberty with some of her hair tied back. There are both 15 and 16 star versions of this type, which was in use until 1797. In 1801 the Heraldic Eagle Reverse was used until 1807. It showed the eagle facing left holding arrows and olive branch in the wrong talons. The eagle’s right talon should be holding the olive branch. Instead it holds the arrows. The eagle’s wings are outstretched, and above its head are 13 stars and clouds.
The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is on a banner in front of the eagle’s right wing and behind the left. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the design. The next type of half dollar was the Capped Bust, Lettered Edge. It was minted from 1807 to 1836. It showed a portrait of Liberty wearing a LIBERTY inscribed Phrygian cap facing left. There are 7 stars on the left and 6 on the right with the date below. The reverse motif shows a heraldic eagle with wings lowered facing left. A scroll above has the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is above and the denomination, 50 C. is below. The edge is inscribed the same as the previous type. This design remained in use until 1836 when a reeded edge Reverse 50 Cents was minted. In 1838 the reverse was changed to HALF DOL. The Liberty Seated Half Dollar followed and was in use from 1839 to 1891. It showed a seated figure of Liberty facing left holding a staff and Phrygian cap in one hand and the Union shield inscribed LIBERTY in the other with the date below. The reverse shows a reverse similar to the previous type. At various times several combinations of arrows at the date and rays above the eagle were used. A banner with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added in 1866.
Charles Barber designed the next half which remained in use until 1915. It was followed by Weinman’s Walking Liberty Half that was used until 1947. In 1948 the Franklin Half was minted, but because of the assassination of President Kennedy, the Kennedy Half Dollar was minted in 1964 and is still being made today, with modifications in metallic content, mainly for collectors. In 1975 to 1976 the Bicentennial design replaced the regular Kennedy half, but it resumed in 1977.
Edge: Lettered – FIFTY CENTS OR A HALF DOLLAR with decorations (1807-1814 FIFTY CENTS OR HALF DOLLAR. 1814-1831 Star added between DOLLAR and FIFTY, 1832-1836 Vertical lines between words.
Weight: 13.48 grams
Diameter: 32.5 millimeters
Composition: 89.24% silver, 10.76% copper
Weight: 13.36 grams
Diameter: 30 millimeters, (1839-present 30.6 millimeters)
Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 12.44 grams (12.50 grams 1873-1964)
Diameter: 30.6 millimeters
Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper