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The mintage for Philadelphia half dollars was recorded as 934,000 pieces in 1892, and many were saved as the first of their kind. After all, it had been since 1839 when the half dollar had seen a major design change. Apparently, this new Barber design was well received by the public. Nevertheless, time and attrition take their inevitable toll and very few of these early Barber half dollars remain in Gem condition.
Mint Director J. P. Kimball placed his considerable influence behind the passage of what became the Mint Act of September 26, 1890. This Act specified that coin designs could be changed after they had been in use 25 years. Minor silver coinage came up for possible change in 1891. A circular requesting proposals was sent to 10 of America's premier sculptors which failed to produce the desired results. Thus, the Treasury opened the competition to the public, but one of the judges was Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber. 300 entries were submitted, but none were thought worthy of a prize, and only two received Honorable Mention. Barber submitted his own design, which was adopted for coinage in 1892, on dimes, quarters and half dollars. The obverse depicts Liberty as a mirror image of the current Morgan silver dollar, with a laurel wreath on her head, and her hair tucked up under her cap instead of cascading onto her shoulders as on the silver dollar. Barber adapted the reverse design from the Great Seal, very similar to what Robert Scot had done 91 years earlier on silver and gold coinage. The only change was in the array of stars over the eagle's head, randomly placed instead of in the shape of the Star of David pattern from the Great Seal, or in rows as Robert Scot had done on the Draped Bust coinage. Barber's design continued for 25 calendar years, when the new Walking Liberty half dollars were released in late 1916.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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