It’s hard to imagine that half a cent would buy anything, but when U.S. currency was introduced in 1792, one dollar had the purchasing power of over $18 today, making the half cent roughly as valuable as today’s dime. And at a time when a working man’s wage was around a dollar a day, many goods were priced in fractions of cents. For example, a pound of potatoes sold for 1½ cents back then.
U.S. Half Cent Design (1793-1857)
U.S. half cents were produced from 1793 until 1857, were 100% copper, and were about the size of today’s quarter. The original design had a female head facing leftwith flowing hair and cap symbolizing a freeperson of the time. The word “LIBERTY” was inscribed over the head and the date below. The back had “HALF CENT” stacked in the center surrounded by a wreath. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA was engraved around the edge and the fraction 1/200 rested at the bottom. Lettering on the edge of the coin read “TWO HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR.” In 1794 the Liberty head was turned to face right.
Redesigns and Styles of the U.S. Half Cent (1800-1857)
From 1800 through 1808 the Liberty head portrait was changed to a “Draped Bust” and the edge lettering was removed. In 1809, the Liberty head was redesigned and surrounded by thirteen stars. The wreath on the back was also redesigned and the 1/200 fraction was removed. These coins are known as the “Classic Head” or “Capped Bust” style. The final run of half cents was from 1849-1857, by which time the coin’s monetary value had become less than the cost of the copper used to make it and the coin was discontinued. The 1849 design was modified once more, and these are known as the “Coronet” or “Braided Hair” style.
U.S. Half Cent Grades, Varieties and Rarity
The 1849 series half cents are still relatively easy to come by, with lower-grade samples of common dates costing $35-50. Higher grades run well into the hundreds of dollars. Earlier issues are much rarer, with Extra Fine coins from the 1790s bringing as much as $50,000. Mint state coins are pushing half a million. Half cents also had rare die varieties and mistakes including an 1828 coin with only twelve stars, an AU-55 (About Uncirculated) example of which sold in 2001 for $1,323.00.
Keep Your Coin Collection Growing
Collecting coins and currency is a fascinating and rewarding hobby. Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned expert, the best advice is to buy the highest grade you can afford, consistent with your collecting goals. Then, as your collection fills out, look for opportunities to upgrade as you keep your eye on the current market.
The Great American Coin Company® offers a wide selection of collectible U.S. coins and paper money as well as currency from around the world. We keep adding unique collectibles as they become available, so be sure to visit us frequently. And while you’re there, be sure to visit our blog for interesting and timely articles about currency and precious metals.