The Seated Liberty half dime is the smallest in size and lowest in
denomination of the six series of coins bearing the Seated Liberty
designs. The Seated Liberty half dime's production at the Mints at
Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans totaled 84,828,478 coins
struck for circulation.
The design, featuring Liberty
seated on a rock and holding a shield, was first conceived in 1835 and
was first used on the silver dollar patterns of 1836. But the design
was first used for circulation on the half dime in 1837.
COIN VALUES: See how much Seated Liberty half dimes are worth today
The series is divided into several subtypes. The first, struck at
Philadelphia in 1837 and New Orleans in 1838, appears Without Stars on
the obverse. A semicircle of 13 stars was added around the obverse
border when the design was modified in 1838. This general design was
employed in the half dime series from 1838 through 1859.
Early pieces in the series appear sans drapery at Liberty's elbow.
Mint officials determined this was an oversight and agreed that the
addition of drapery would make Liberty's dress more flowing in
appearance. The proportion of the drapery to the design varies from
denomination to denomination within the Seated Liberty series. On the
half dime, the drapery appears very large.
From 1838 to
1853, the Mints at Philadelphia and New Orleans produced half dimes.
Numerous varieties occur through the half dime series, including the
1849/6 and 1849/8 overdates.
In 1853, small arrows were
added to each side of the date to reflect a reduction in weight.
Because of rising silver prices, the weight was reduced to prevent
coins from being melted for their silver content. The arrows remained
In 1856, the arrows were dropped, with the
earlier design resumed through 1859. Two interesting varieties appear
during this period: The elusive 1858 regular date over inverted date
and the 1859 with stars bearing hollow center points.
transitional patterns or fantasy pieces were produced in 1859 and
1860, both missing UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The obverse of each
features Liberty seated surrounded by stars. The reverse features half
dime surrounded by a wreath.
In 1860, the regular half
dime issue was again changed. The obverse stars were replaced with the
inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The reverse wreath was enlarged.
This basic design was retained through the end of the series in
One of the most startling numismatic discoveries of
the 20th century, more than 100 years after its production, was the
unique 1870-S Seated Liberty half dime, since Mint records confirming
production of the coin were unknown until March 2004. The piece came
to light in 1978 when it was displayed by the Chicago-based auction
In 1872, two half dime varieties were
created at the San Francisco Mint, one with a Mint mark above the
wreath bow and the other with a Mint mark below.
the last decade or so of the half dime denominations, coins were not
released into circulation at the time of coinage, but were stored by
the Treasury. During the period, specie payments were suspended and
silver coins did not circulate. This accounts for many latter year
pieces being elusive.
The gap was filled by copper-nickel
5-cent coins bearing the Shield design.
Liberty half dime series is teeming with collectible varieties in
addition to those previously cited. These include blundered dates,
repunched and recut dates, overdates, repunched Mint marks, as well as
large, medium and small dates, and more.
Seated Liberty half dimes and other coins in the Seated Liberty genre
may be interested in the specialty club devoted to their study – the
Liberty Seated Collectors Club, which publishes research in The
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: