The inclusion of this denomination within the Mint Act of 1792 was at the insistence of Alexander Hamilton, who reasoned that a coin of such low value would be useful to the poor. Also, the prevalence in circulation of Spanish silver coins valued at 12-1/2 cents suggested the need for half cent pieces. While the product of sound logic, the fact is that half cents were never popular, and the U. S. Mint typically made them only when cent planchets were not available. Few banks or businesses ordered these coins, and the Mint was frequently overstocked with them.
The Liberty Cap Half Cents of 1793-97 actually include several subtypes in the portrait of Liberty and the details of the wreath. Numerous varieties resulted from the use of extensive hand punching in the preparation of the dies and from the employment of different edge devices. The planchets on which these coins were struck are almost universally of poor quality, and all but a few varieties are scarce. Half cents dated 1796 are all rarities.
The Draped Bust Half Cents of 1800-08 were coined from better copper, though they too are known struck over defective large cents that were cut down to size. Most half cents of this type are weakly struck, particularly at their borders. There are no rare dates in this series. Certain varieties of 1804 and 1806 are relatively common in uncirculated condition, whether toned to brown or a combination of red and brown with black spotting.
In 1809 the Classic Head type was introduced. This design was employed as late as 1836, though with a long interruption from 1812 through 1824 when no half cents were minted. Rare dates include 1811, 1831 and 1836. The latter two are believed to have been proof-only issues, though a few 1831 half cents are known in worn condition.
The coining of half cents for circulation was suspended from 1836 through 1848. Proofs only were made of the Coronet-Braided Hair type dated 1840-48. This type remained in use through 1857, when the half cent denomination was abolished. Coins were struck for circulation with every date from 1849 through 1857, the sole exception being the proof-only issue of 1852.
Perhaps due to a glaring lack of date continuity, half cents have never enjoyed the popularity of large cents with collectors. Sought primarily by type collectors, half cents do have a modest following of date collectors, too.
Most date collectors are likewise seeking these coins by varieties. Though a number of dates, particularly during the Coronet period of 1849-57, have just a single variety per date, the earlier issues of 1793-1806 are rich in highly distinctive varieties.
NGC will assign Cohen (C) numbers to all half cents. Cohen’s book is out of print, but his numbering system is still widely used. Attribution of Cohen varieties is made easier with the more recent and better illustrated book by Ron Manley. Walter Breen’s half cent reference, while it includes beautiful photos, has not gained a large following among half cent collectors, and his numbers are seldom used outside of auction catalogs.
Cohen numbers begin anew with each date. Thus, the first listed variety for each date will always be C-1, followed by C-2, C-3, etc. Variations within a given die pairing, such as alternative edge devices, are designated by suffix letters. For example, the 1797 C-3 die pairing with plain edge is labeled C-3a, while the lettered edge pairing is designated C-3b, and the gripped edge pairing is described as C-3c.
NOTE: NGC formerly used Breen numbers to attribute half cents, and such coins may be resubmitted in their holders for conversion to Cohen numbers under NGC’s ReHolder service.
NOTE: All proof-only varieties will be attributed as either Original or Restrike and do not require VarietyPlus service.
* In order to have the above varieties requiring the $15 fee designated by
NGC, VarietyPlus service must be requested at time of grading.
VarietyPlus service is also available for coins already encapsulated by NGC.
For coins where the fee column is blank, no VarietyPlus charge is required to
have your coin designated during grading. For coins marked $15, a $15 surcharge
applies to the tier fee during grading, or a $15 fee applies to have the VarietyPlus
designation added to any coin already graded and encapsulated by NGC.
Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents 1793-1857. American Institute of Numismatic Research, South Gate, CA, 1983
Cohen, Rogers S. Jr. American Half Cents, the “Little Half Sisters,” 2nd Edition. Wigglesworth & Ghatt, Arlington, VA, 1982
Heim, Gregory S. A Quickfinder for Attributing Varieties of United States Half Cents: 1793-1857. Published by the author, North Brunswick, NJ, 1997
Manley, Ronald P., Ph.D. The Half Cent Die State Book 1793-1857. Published by the author, 1998