Seated Liberty Half Dollar (1839-1891)
By 1839 Half Dollars had been in circulation for decades and had undergone a plethora of adjustments and 1839 proved no exception to this constant revising. In 1839, silver coins were overhauled yet again. Instead of the variations on the bust design that had been in circulation before, the new design featured a seated Liberty wearing a cap that signified freedom and a shield that represented preparedness. Like those before, this change in the face of the coinage was representative of a group of people still seeking to define themselves. This new seated liberty was engraved on all silver coins produced at this time including the silver half dollar. The coin also featured an eagle with rays around it on the other side. The Seated Liberty Half Dollar went through a few different reworkings.
From 1839 until 1853, the coin’s design included an arrowhead near the date and rays emitting from the eagle on the back, but in 1853 the rays were removed leaving only arrows near the date on the coin. The rays were removed because their inclusion on the half dollar was impeding on its production. The issue was with the dying process for the rays. That process led to delays and also had to be replaced at a rate that was unstainable. The Seated Liberty coin without the rays was originally minted in Philadelphia, New Orleans and was later minted in San Francisco and collectors can check beneath the eagle on the reverse side of the coin to find the mint marks from New Orleans and San Francisco. The coin continued to undergo minor changes due to its weight.
Collectors are encouraged to check the body of the Liberty figure and the head and wings of the eagle on the reverse side for wear while grading the coin. In post civil war America, a cultural emphasis on a bright new start affected legislation and in turn affected the design of the silver half dollar. In 1865 legislation was passed to change the design of certain silver currency including the half dollar. It was mandated that the phrase “In God We Trust” be presented on certain denominations of silver currency and so this detail was added to the minting process. This final version of the coin is a combination of years of tinkering with the design. The last version features a seated woman, referred to commonly as Liberty on the face of the coin, with thirteen stars above her and the date below. Liberty is holding a pole with the Liberty cap on her right and on her left is a shield. On the reverse the coin displays an eagle with a shield and above the eagle with the shield is a banner that reads “In God We Trust.” Also present on this version of the Seated Liberty Half Dollar is the phrase “United States of America” across the center of the eagle and the value of the coin, expressed as “Half Dol”.