Half Dollars - Chapter ImageOverview of Half Dollars

  • Half Dollars - Obverse Image
  • Half Dollars - Reverse Image

Half Dollars: Design Types

A collection of half dollars is one of the most satisfying in the American series. The panorama is extensive, and ranges from the early Flowing Hair issues of 1794 and 1795 down to the present day. The large size of such pieces makes them convenient to view and enjoy.

Among the types, the 1794–1795 Flowing Hair half dollar is readily available in circulated grades and rare in Mint State, but at any level is hard to find well struck and without adjustment marks. Most on the market are dated 1795. Careful selection is advised.

The next type, 1796–1797 with Draped Bust obverse and Small Eagle reverse, is the scarcest in the American silver series excepting the 1839 Gobrecht dollar. (However, the latter is available in Proof restrike form, yielding choice and gem examples, so it can be considered in a different category from the circulation-strike 1796–1797 half dollar type.) It might not be possible to be particular, but, finances permitting, a collector should take some time and endeavor to find a specimen sharply struck on both sides. Needle-sharp striking is more of a theory than a practicality, and some compromise may be necessary.

Half dollars of the 1801–1807 type, obverse as preceding but now with the Heraldic Eagle reverse, are plentiful enough in worn grades but somewhat scarce in Mint State. Striking is seldom needle sharp and ranges from average to very poor. However, there are enough coins in the marketplace that collectors can afford to take their time and select a sharp strike.

Capped Bust half dollars with lettered edge, 1807–1836, abound in just about any grade desired. Again, striking is a consideration, and some searching is needed. Generally, those in the late 1820s and the 1830s are better struck than are those of earlier dates, the earlier coins being scarcer and more expensive in any event. The short-lived type of 1836–1837, Capped Bust with reeded edge, denomination spelled as 50 CENTS, is available easily enough through the high-mintage 1837, but most have problems with striking. Then comes the 1838–1839 type of the same obverse style, its reverse modified with a slightly different eagle and with the denomination as HALF DOL. Generally these are fairly well struck.

Liberty Seated half dollars of the several styles within the series, 1839–1891, admit of no great rarities for the type collector, save for the 1839 No Drapery in levels of MS-63 and finer. However, among the earlier types in particular, sharply struck pieces are in the minority. Curiously, the most readily available Mint State Liberty Seated half dollars also are the lowest mintage issues, the dates 1879 and later, as these were recognized as desirable at the time of issue, and were widely saved.

Barber half dollars were not popular in their time, and while Proofs exist in proportion to their production figures, Mint State coins are quite scarce. In fact, as a type, a Barber half dollar dated 1900 or later in Mint State is the scarcest of all silver issues of that century. Well-struck MS-63 and better Barber half dollars, with the upper-right corner of the shield and the leg at lower right showing full details, are significantly scarcer than generally realized.

Liberty Walking half dollars minted from 1916 to 1947 are plentiful in all grades. Again, some attention should be made to striking sharpness, at which time the search becomes more intense. Fortunately, there are countless thousands of MS-63 and finer coins of the 1940s on the market, giving collectors a wide choice. Then come Franklin half dollars, made only from 1948 to 1963, with representative coins easy enough to acquire in about any grade desired. Kennedy half dollars exist in several varieties, all of which are available without any problem. Among these and other modern coins care needs to be taken for value received versus price paid. Modern issues in, for example, MS-65 and 66, selected for quality, are for many collectors preferable to MS-69 or 70 coins offered at a much higher price.

Recommended Reading

  • Tomaska, Rick. A Guide Book of Franklin and Kennedy Half Dollars (2nd ed.), Atlanta, GA, 2012.
  • Flynn, Kevin. The Authoritative Reference on Barber Half Dollars, Brooklyn, NY, 2005.
  • Fox, Bruce. The Complete Guide to Walking Liberty Half Dollars, Virginia Beach, VA, 1993.
  • Haseltine, J.W. Type Table of United States Dollars, Half Dollars and Quarter Dollars, Philadelphia, 1881 (reprinted 1927, 1968).
  • Lawrence, David. The Complete Guide to Barber Halves, Virginia Beach, VA, 1991.
  • Overton, Al C. Early Half Dollar Die Varieties, 1794–1836, Colorado Springs, CO, 1967 (3rd ed., 1990, edited by Donald Parsley).
  • Peterson, Glenn R. The Ultimate Guide to Attributing Bust Half Dollars, Rocky River, OH, 2000.
  • Wiley, Randy, and Bugert, Bill. The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars, Virginia Beach, VA, 1993.
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