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    

1871 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Razor Sharp Near Gem Proof, Just 960 Struck!1881 50c Half Dollar Seated Ngc Proof Details **rainbow Toning** Cameo ContrastSeated Half 1877 Cc Ch Unc Frosty Ultra Rare Date Early Type Coin Estate Find1876 S Pcgs Au58 Liberty Seated Dollar1874 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Au1878 Full Head Ms+++ Seated Liberty Half Dollar From Big Collection1855-o 50c Xf Arrows Liberty Seated Half Dollar1878cc Seated Half Pcgs Vg10 Cac Very Original And Rare1876 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Xf45 Pcgs1854/1854 Seated Liberty 50 Cents - Repunched Date- About Uncirculated1853 50c Arrows And Rays Liberty Seated Half Dollar1861 Seated Half Dollar--choice Au++/unc1859 Seated Half Dollar Ngc Au 501858-o Ultra Gem High Grade Seated Liberty Half Dollar From Big Collection1853 Arrows And Rays Liberty Seated Half Dollar 50c Xf 45 Pcgs (lot L/jm)1842 50c Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar, Medium Date1853 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Graded Ngc Xf45 - $290 Value! Cert 2657585-003United States 1844 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Nice Grade1876-cc 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar. Gs18641857 Seated Liberty Half Dollar 50c Au Details Ngc Certified1843 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Us Silver Coin (estate Fresh)1860o Seated Half - Ss Republic ... Ngc Shipwreck Effect Seated Liberty Half 1875 Ch Unc Frosty Ultra Rare Early Type Coin Lustrous 1873 50c Seated Liberty Half Dollar Arrows - Brilliant Unc - Great Strike, Tone1858-o Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar ~ Circulated Us Coin1876-s Seated Liberty Half Dollar Silver Coin1870 Seated Half Dollar W/toning!1875-s .50¢ Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar Rare High Grade Sharp CoinRare 1866-s No Motto Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar ~ Circulated Us Coin1861 Liberty Seated Half Dollar Silver Coin1846-0 Tall Date Seated Liberty Half Dollar 1865-s Seated Liberty Half Dollar Coin1875 Seated Liberty Half Dollar #39791874 Seated Liberty Half With Arrows - About Uncirculated Au 2 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Both Holed, 1854 Arrows, 1875, True AuctionUs 1858 50c Xf In 2x2 Holder More Details On Image 1855-o Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar ~ Circulated Us Coin1863-s Pcgs Xf Details Seated Liberty Half Dollar Chop Marks (chopmarks)1858 Seated Liberty Silver Us Half Dollar 50c - You Grade It - H891874 Liberty Seated Silver Half Dollar - Grades "good"1859-o 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar1843 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Very Good Plus Nice Coin1871 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar1845o Liberty Seated Half Dollar Us Coin .50 Fifty Cent1861-o Seated Liberty Ss Republic Shipwreck Half Dollar W/ Display Case & Coa!1868-s Seated Liberty Half DollarTough 1855-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar Toned Unc -from Estate 1856 O New Orleans Liberty Seated Silver Us Half Dollar 50c - You Grade It - H211839 Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar Fine + Details1859-o Toned Ultra High Grade Seated Liberty Half Dollar From Big Collection Usa 1858 Silver Half Dollar Almost Uncirculated Ngc Au Details Coin 1871-s 50c Silver Seated Liberty Half Dollar1858 O Us Half Dollar; Filler1859-o Seated Liberty Half Dollar1842 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Pcgs Genuine Tooled- Xf Details Medium Date1875-s 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar Full Rims"1876-cc", Seated Liberty Half Dollar. 1877 50c Liberty Seated Half Dollar1861 S Us Mint Seated Liberty Silver Half Dollar 50c Fifty Cents1856 -o Seated Liberty Half Dollar Us Silver Coin (estate Fresh)