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    

1858-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Tough Choice Uncirculated Silver Half!1877 Proof Seated Liberty Half Dollar Ngc Pr64 Cac Toned Us Coin "rare Beauty"1876 Liberty Seated Half Dollar~pcgs Ms63~attractive Original Coin! 1859 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Nice Solid Gem Pf++, Just 800 Pr's Issued!1839 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Choice Xf Better Date ** Free Shipping!1861-o W-11 Confederate Obv Seated Half, Pcgs F12, Rare! Davidkahnrarecoins1853 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Arrows & Rays, Nice Choice Au Silver, Free S/h!1861-s Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar-fine-100% Original-scarce Date1855-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Arrows, Choice Au Better Date ** Free S/h!1876 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Proof, Very Nice Choice Gem Pf++, 1150 Pr Made!1875-cc Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Deeply Toned Choice Au++/unc Key Date!1871 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar - Au 58 Ngc1873 Seated Liberty Half Dollar. High Grade No Arrows High Au1873-cc Half Dollar - Arrows - Seated Liberty 50c - Holed1877 Seated Liberty Half Dollar 1853 Arrows & Rays Half Dollar - Higer Grade Extra Fine Condition 1854-o 50c Arrows Ss Republic Shipwreck Treasure Seated Half Dollar Coin W/ Coa!1853 U.s. Seated Liberty Half Dollar Ungraded (i-1341bj)1879 Seated Half Ngc Au501877-s Seated Liberty Half Dollar, San Francisco Silver Half, ** Free Shipping!1875 50c Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar1873-p Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar-au-superb Coin!-100% Original1876 S Seated Liberty Half Dollar 1876-s 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar 1876-cc Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Tough Choice Au++ Better Date Carson City!1846 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Tough Au Silver Half, ** Free Shipping!1854-o Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar Vg+ * Circulated Us Coin *1859-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Tougher Au++ Silver Half, ** Free Shipping!1864-s Seated Liberty 50c Nice Coin; Take A Look; Fill That Hole; No Reserve; Au1891 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Bu++ Silver Half, ** Free Shipping!1876 Nevada Dollar1877-s Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Choice Au++ Silver Half, ** Free Shipping!1874 S Seated Liberty Half Dollar F-vf / Tougher Date1877-s Seated Half Dollar Pcgs Very Fine-301875 Seated Half Dollar Pcgs Very Fine-30Estate Find 1856 - Seated Liberty Half Dollar!! #g59691874 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Arrows, Au Better Date ** Free Shipping!1858-o Seated Half Dollar Pcgs Vf-351858-p Seated Liberty Half Dollar Pcgs Vf35 Nr1873 Seated Liberty Half Dollar 50c No Arrows1859-o Seated Silver Liberty Half Dollar 50 Coin Nice Fast Free Ship Usa1855-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar Choice Au++ Better Date ** Free Shipping1855 Arrows Seated Half Dollar Pcgs Vg-101858-o 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar1861-o Seated Liberty Half. V.g. Detail. 1133471871 Seated Half Dollar Pcgs Very Good-81866 Counterstamped Seated Liberty Half Dollar1846 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Good1878 Seated Liberty Half Dollar1874 Arrows Seated Liberty Half Dollar Vg1847-o Seated Liberty Silver 1/2 Dollar, Very Nice Coin, Coins1871 Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar-au-100% Original-beautiful Coin!1862-s Wb-4 Tough Date Liberty Seated Half Dollar, Pcgs Xf45 Davidkahnrarecoins1876 Liberty Seated "silver" Half Dollar, Early Date - Holed - #94751861 Seated Liberty Half Dol1854 Liberty Seated Half Dollar1877-s 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar1858 O Liberty Seated Half Dollar 50c1854 Seated Liberty Half Dollar1861 Liberty Seated Half Dollar