Braided Hair Half Cent (1840-1857)
One of the first regular issue coins the US Mint produced after its establishment in 1792 was the half cent, the smallest US coin denomination ever minted. It was produced from 1793 until 1857, and sported five designs throughout its run. The last design being the Braided Hair Half Cent by Mint Engraver Christian Gobrecht.
As the Mint produced more coins, the half cent lost its significance as a medium of exchange. The coin was minted sporadically as people favored the Spanish reales more. Regular production was reestablished in 1811, with peak mintage in 1835 followed by another period of ceased production.
Since dignitaries are given proof sets of US coins, Mint Director Robert M. Patterson decided to include the half cent and asked Gobrecht to create dies, as well as hubs in case there would be a need for half cents again.
And that begins the journey of the Braided Hair Half Cent, which was produced from 1840 to 1857.
History of the Braided Hair Half Cent
There have been four previous designs of the Braided Hair Half Cent since it first appeared in 1793. For the 1840 half cent, Gobrecht decided to recycle a previous design, the Braided Hair portrait.
The obverse of the coin features Liberty facing left. Her hair is braided into a bun at the back of hear head with ringlets of hair draping down. She is also wearing a tiara with the words LIBERTY inscribed in it. Completing the obverse design are thirteen stars circling the Liberty bust.
The reverse of the 1840 Braided Hair Half Cent continues the previous design by John Reich. The denomination is written out in words (HALF CENT) and surrounded by a wreath with a bow at the bottom. The circling words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA complete the design. This particular reverse design was maintained throughout, with only minor changes introduced.
Only Braided Hair Half Cent proofs were made from 1840 to 1849, and they were given as diplomatic gifts or sold to collectors. The Mint still had about 82,000 coins in their vault from the large production made in 1835. By 1848, orders started up again as supplies started to dwindle. Production of Braided Hair Half Cent coins continued until it was discontinued in 1857, with a hiatus in 1852.
Most of the coins produced after 1850 went to post offices for use as change.
Collecting Braided Hair Half Cent Coins
Braided Hair Half Cent pieces were produced in proofs from 1840 to 1849, making the coin a unique and expensive one to collect. That said, restrikes were made of the proofs and they are easy to tell apart for they have smaller berries in the wreath.
The Braided Hair Half Cent business strikes can prove challenging to collect with slightly more than 500,000 coins produced. The coin is available in circulated and uncirculated grades each year it was made.
The half cent is made of copper and as such, its condition is determined by its storage environment. Common issues found with the coins include carbon spots and corrosion marks.
Production for the Braided Hair Half Cent ceased in 1857. It was almost revived by Congress in 1912, but the bill never passed the Senate.