Know your U.S. coins: Seated Liberty half dollar

Shield? Check.

Liberty cap on pole? Got it.

Rock? Right here.

Although this checklist is imaginary, it does seem to be what was used to design silver coinage in the mid- to late 1800s.

What was to become known as the Seated Liberty design – which used a shield, Liberty cap on pole with Liberty perched on a rock – can be found on more silver denominations than any other design.

Many designers and engravers participated in the process of transferring the design concept to the various denominations over the years and the half dollar was no exception.

COIN VALUES: See how much Seated Liberty half dollar coins are worth today

Christian Gobrecht's original allegorical representation of Liberty seated on a large rock (based on a painting by Thomas Sully) is the dominant feature on the obverse. She holds a shield in one hand and a pole with Liberty cap in the other. The figure is surrounded by 13 stars.

Noted designer/engraver John Reich, probably best known for his Capped Bust design used on the half dime, dime, quarter dollar and half dollar, is credited with the Seated Liberty half dollar reverse. Reich's eagle, with wings raised, shield on breast, arrows and olive branch in claws, continues the heraldic reverse theme of earlier coinage.

The Seated Liberty half dollar experienced many of the same design changes through its 52-year run as did the half dimes and quarter dollars bearing the design: the addition of drapery or lack of drapery, and arrows and rays or no arrows nor rays. The design was discontinued in 1891 but not before the 20-cent and silver dollar denominations were issued.

There were several pattern design trial pieces struck for the 1838 half dollar.

Patterns are coins struck to try out a new size or design or denomination or even alloy or type of planchet. Trial pieces are struck to literally test a die being developed by the engraver. Two of the patterns for the Seated Liberty obverse show a design similar to the eagle design adopted – one has the eagle facing right, the other left. Another pattern shows an eagle in flight facing left, reminiscent of the obverse design for the Flying Eagle cent.

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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