Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design was adopted for U.S. silver dollars in 1836; in 1839, the half dollar became the last silver denomination to use it. The coin’s obverse features a full portrait of Lady Liberty seated on a stone, with a heraldic shield marked “Liberty” in her right hand and a pole with a liberty cap on the top in her left. The reverse depicts an eagle similar to that on earlier half dollars.

Seated Liberty half dollars were issued from 1839 to 1891 and went through several variations over this time period. The first change came late in 1839, when an extra piece of drapery was added to Lady Liberty’s left elbow; half dollars without this extra drapery are rare. In 1842, the coin changed again when the letters on its reverse were increased in size.

An even bigger change was introduced in 1853. Because of the sudden increase in the supply of gold thanks to the California Gold Rush, the price of silver compared to that of gold rose dramatically—gold was now less scarce and less valuable. As a result, more and more people were hoarding silver coins and melting them down because their silver content was now worth more than the face value of the coin itself. America faced a shortage of change as coins disappeared from circulation.

To combat this trend, Mint Director George N. Eckert proposed a plan that Congress passed on February 21, 1853. This action reduced the weight of half dollars from 206 ¼ grains to 192 grains: if the coins were lighter (and had less silver), their precious metal content would not be worth more than their face value, which would discourage the hoarding of coins and their destruction.

To indicate the reduced metal content without having to design a new coin, the Mint added two arrows around the date on the obverse, plus rays around the eagle on the reverse. These rays were discontinued in 1854 because the design took too long and cost too much to mint; the arrows were discontinued in 1855. In 1856, half dollars returned to their original Seated Liberty design but maintained their new lighter weight.

A decade later, in 1866, Congress added the motto “In God We Trust” to the reverse in a ribbon above the eagle. This motto first appeared two years earlier on two-cent coins as a result of increased religious fervor during the Civil War, and it would become more and more common on U.S. coins as the years passed.

In 1873 and 1874, Seated Liberty coins again included arrows around the obverse date, this time to indicate an increase in weight from 192 grains to 192.9 grains. Rays were not added. From 1875 to 1891, the Mint returned to the variation introduced in 1866. In 1892, Charles Barber’s new half dollar coin design replaced Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1853-p Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Type-3 Arrows And Rays, High Grade! Au/unc!1861-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar Ss Republic Shipwreck Treasure Ngc1861 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Very Nice Bu++ Silver Half, ** Free Shipping!1873 Seated Liberty Half Dollar With Arrows *old Us 50 Cents1874 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, With Arrows, Beautiful Gem Bu++ Better Date!1871 Philadelphia Mint Silver Seated Half Dollar Free Shipping1855-o Liberty Seated Arrows Half Dollar 50c - Pcgs Xf40United States Seated Liberty 50 Cents 1889 Ngc-pf60 Proof Coin, Mintage=711 Pcs.Spectacular 1843 P Uncertified Silver Seated Liberty Half Dollar 50c Au21621856 Silver Seated Liberty Half Dollar Nice Uncirculated1861-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Pursued Key Date Silver Half, ** Free Shippin1854-o Arrows 50c Ss Republic Shipwreck Effect Ngc W/ Wooden Case1875 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, With Motto, Very Nice Choice Au++ Silver Half!1861 O Seated Liberty Half Dollar Anacs Vg 8 Excellent Eye Appeal 100% Original1866-s Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Tougher Bu++ Better Date Silver, ** Free S/h!1862 50c Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar1855-o New Orleans Mint Silver Seated Half Dollar Free Shipping1861 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Tougher Date Silver Half, Choice Au++, Free S/h1874 Philadelphia Mint Silver Seated Half Dollar Free Shipping1853-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Deeply Toned Choice Xf++/au Better Date!Genuine Slver Civil War Us 1861-o Half Dollar 50 Cent Coin Nr1870 Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar Damaged Rim (gs1859 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Pleasing Bu++ Silver Half, ** Free Shipping!Ω 1863 Seated Liberty Half Dollar F1855-o 50c Arrows Liberty Seated Half Dollar1840 W 1839 Reverse **i Think** Seated Silver Half Dollar Nice Even Patina1871 S Seated Liberty Half Dollar - Extra Fine To Au Condition - 41su-21882 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Proof, Tough Choice Pf++, Only 1100 Minted!Amazing 1858 Uncertified Silver Seated Liberty Half Dollar 50c Au21601847 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Vf Excellent Eye Appeal1843 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Vf 1878 Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar Us Silver Coin1867 S Seated Liberty Half Dollar1858-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar - Extra Fine Details 1848 O Seated Liberty Half Dollar Vf++ Excellent Eye Appeal 100% Original1855-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar - Fine Details - Scratch 1865-s Seated Liberty Half Dollar Silver **free Bonus**1876 Seated Liberty Half Dollar1844 O-mint Seated Liberty Half-dollar - (silver)1854 Seated Liberty Half Dollar - Ddo/mint Error - Date Dbling Xf+ W/arrows1877 Philadelphia Mint Silver Seated Half Dollar Free Shipping1873-s Seated Half Dollar Great Deals From The Tecc Bargain Bin1856-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar Fifty Cents New Orleans 90% Silver Us Coin1861 O, Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Civil War Era1873 Cc Seated Liberty Half Dollar W Arrows Rare Date Coin 71916#31871-s Seldom Found Key Very High Grade Seated Liberty Half Dollar1875 Liberty Seated Half Dollar Beautifully Album Toned Au/unc1856 S Seated Liberty Half Dollar U.s. Coin1876-cc Seated Half Dollar Great Deals From The Tecc Bargain Bin1877-s Seated Liberty Half Dollar1860 O Seated Liberty Half Dollar Fine + Excellent Eye Appeal 100% Original1858 Liberty Seated Half Dollar - Old Type Coin, Nice Patina, Fine - Gfrc-coins1860-o 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar Us Coin1847 Scarce Seldom See This One Seated Liberty Half Dollar1861 O United States Seated Liberty 90% Silver Half Dollar1857 Liberty Seated Half Dollar1876-s Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Tough Date ** Free Shipping!1858-o Liberty Seated Half Dollar Silver 50c - Vg Details - Very Good1874 Us Seated Liberty Half Dollar - Free Shipping1876-s Seated Liberty Half Dollar Good "small S"