Know your U.S. Coins: Half cent

Although it may seem unusual today, the United States government once issued a coin worth less than one cent: the half cent.

The copper U.S. half cent was authorized for production on April 2, 1792. During its 64-year lifespan as a circulating denomination, five different basic design types of the tiny (0.93-inch) coin were struck. The coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint and do not have a Mint mark.

COIN VALUES: See how much U.S. half cents are worth today

The half cent's designers and engravers are among the best known names in U.S. Mint design/engraving history: Adam Eckfeldt, Robert Scot, John Gardner, Gilbert Stuart, John Reich and Christian Gobrecht. Designs for the half cent were also used on other denominations through the years.

The 1793 Liberty Cap half cent features a lettered edge stating TWO HUNDRED FOR A DOLLAR. The obverse depicts a bust of Liberty with flowing hair, facing left. A Liberty Cap on a pole rests on her right shoulder giving the design its name, the Liberty Cap. The design for the Liberty Cap half cent was based on Agustin Dupre's Libertas Americana medal.

Half cents struck between 1794 and 1797 bear another Liberty Cap design, this one facing right, and issued in Plain Edge, Lettered Edge and Gripped Edge varieties.

From 1800 to 1808 the Draped Bust design was used on half cents. All half cents bearing those dates are Plain Edge varieties.

The Classic Head design was used on half cents struck between 1809-1836. From 1849 to 1857, a Coronet design with Plain Edge was used. All half cents have a wreath on the reverse.

The key dates in the series are 1793; 1796, No Pole; 1802/0, Reverse of 1800; and 1831.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:


Dimes and half dimes:


Half dollars:


Gold coins:

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