US Coins

Analyzing the affordability of Seated Liberty halves

Home Hobbyist column from the Sept. 12, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

The Seated Liberty half dollar has a clean design with relatively few devices. The planchet is large, and there are ample fields on the Lady Liberty obverse and Small Eagle reverse. 

Within that simple design, however, are six major subtypes based on variations in devices: No Drapery (1839), No Motto (1839 to 1866), Arrows and Rays (1853), No Motto with Arrows at Date (1854 to 1855), With Motto (1866 to 1891), and finally With Motto and Arrows at Date (1873 to 1874).

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Variations exist within each sub­type, including years that lack certain devices they should have. Devices that vary according to year or variety are Drapery, Mottoes, and Rays and Arrows. 

Drapery or not

“Drapery” refers to the fold of cloth appearing under Lady Liberty’s left arm on the obverse. “Motto” refers to IN GOD WE TRUST, which appears in a banner above the eagle. “Rays” are lines that rise above the wings and head of that eagle. “Arrows” refer to the arrowheads that appear on either side of the date on the obverse; they designate a change in weight (from 206.25 grains to 192 grains in 1853 and from 192 grains to 192.9 grains in 1873 to 1874).  

One of my goals is to collect as many date and subtype pairings as I can afford, with one assuredly out of my reach — the 1853-O Seated Liberty, No Arrows half dollar (only four of these are in existence) — compared to the abundantly minted (1,328,000) 1853-O With Arrows and Rays coin.

The first year of the series showcases Liberty without and with drapery under her left arm. An 1839 Seated Liberty, No Drapery half dollar, mintage of 100,000, costs about $400 in Very Fine 20 to VF-25, a bargain at that price. The 1839 Seated Liberty, With Drapery half dollar in the same grade, with a mintage of 1,872,400, is valued at about $200.

For about the same price and condition, you can add an 1845-O Seated Liberty, No Drapery half dollar, a coin design that should have included drapery, but it vanished because of vigorous die polishing at the New Orleans Mint.

Here are other affordable coins:

  • 1866-S No Motto, 60,000 mintage (about $500 in Good 6); and 1866-S With Motto, 994,000 (about $200 in VF-25).
  • 1873 No Arrows, Closed 3, 587,000 (about $250 in Extremely Fine 45); and 1873 Arrows, 1,815,150 (about $350 in EF-45).
  • 1873-CC No Arrows, 122,500 (about $400 in Good 6); and 1873-CC With Arrows, 214,560 (about $250 in Good 6).

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