The US half cent coins are the smallest denomination ever minted by the US Mint. They entered circulation in 1793 to facilitate smaller transactions in the early American economy. They exited circulation in 1857 after its usage declined.
Despite their modest value, these coins remain collectible and offer a glimpse into America's early numismatic history. Explore L&C Coins’ brilliant selection of these history-rich, small denomination coins and add a fascinating new piece to your collection.
America's Smallest Denomination: The Half Cent’s History
Authorized for production by the Coinage Act of 1792 as part of America’s first national coinage, it was minted as a practical necessity to facilitate everyday transactions during a period when many workers earned just a dollar a day. With such modest wages, smaller denominations were crucial for dividing earnings and making change.
Before this, the Spanish colonial "two reales" or "two bits" coin was commonly used as a half cent equivalent. However, the introduction of the official US coin helped establish a standardized currency for the young nation.
The US half cent coin, a small but significant part of American numismatic history, boasts a variety of obverse designs across its lifespan. The first design, the Liberty Cap Type 1 (1793), features Lady Liberty facing left, donning a Phrygian cap. This design was conceived and engraved by Henry Voigt.
In 1794, the Liberty Cap Type 2 introduced a larger head with Liberty facing right. This version, likely designed and engraved by Robert Scot, transitioned to a smaller head in the Liberty Cap Type 3 (1795-1797), with the collaboration of Scot-John Gardner.
The Draped Bust (1800-1808) showcased a more elegant Liberty, designed by Gilbert Stuart and Robert Scot, while the reverse was crafted by Scot-John Gardner. This series marked the last appearance of the "1/200" engraving beneath the wreath.
The Classic Head (1809-1836) brought a new look to the half cent, designed and engraved by John Reich, with some enhancements by Robert Scot during its circulation. A modified wreath on the reverse and a detailed, matronly bust of Liberty sets this coin apart.
Lastly, the Braided Hair (1840-1857) featured a design by Christian Gobrecht, known for his work on the Gobrecht dollar and Seated Liberty dollar. This coin features Liberty’s profile facing left on the obverse.
Throughout its history, the reverse design remained consistent: a wreath enclosing "HALF CENT," encircled by "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA." The "1/200" engraving beneath the wreath was removed in 1809 with the Classic Head's introduction. All designs were composed of 100% copper, emphasizing their historical significance.
Circulation and Availability
The US half cent was minted exclusively at the Philadelphia Mint. Its production was sporadic, with some years, like 1798 and 1799, seeing no minting activity. In total, around 7 million of these coins were struck before production ceased in 1857.
One notable rarity is the 1793 coin, of which only 35,000 were minted. Another exceptional rarity is the 1796 No-Pole variety, featuring Lady Liberty without a pole supporting the liberty cap. These coins are highly sought after by collectors due to their historical significance and scarcity.
Coin production ceased in 1857 due to the increasing cost of copper and limited use in daily commerce. It was not directly replaced by another coin; instead, as the US economy experienced natural inflation, its role was gradually absorbed by the one-cent coin and the nickel.
Unlock the World of Numismatics at L&C Coins
L&C Coins, founded in 1974 by Lee Crane, is a family-owned business located in Southern California. With nearly 50 years of experience, L&C Coins has become a reputable source for collectible coins and a respected member of the coin community. As certified dealers with PCGS and NGC, we are recognized for our thorough knowledge of the coin market, designs, and valuations. We provide free shipping on standard orders and express shipping for orders over $25, all backed by a 15-day return privilege.
Explore L&C Coins’ impressive collection today. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact our expert team — we’re always happy to help!
What are the different half cent designs?
These coins have showcased various designs throughout their history, reflecting the nation's artistic and cultural evolution. The four major designs include the Liberty Cap (1793-1797), the Draped Bust (1800-1808), the Classic Head (1809-1836), and the Braided Hair (1840-1857). Each design depicts Lady Liberty in unique ways, while the reverse design remains consistent.
When and why was the US half cent coin discontinued?
It was discontinued in 1857 due to its declining purchasing power and the rising costs of producing copper coins. As the US economy grew and modernized, the need for such a small denomination diminished, ultimately leading to its discontinuation in favor of larger denominations.
Are half cent coins valuable to collectors?
These small coins hold significant value for collectors due to their historical importance, rarity, and intricate designs. The value of a specific coin depends on factors such as rarity, condition, and the coin's mint year. Some early and rare coins can be worth thousands of dollars, while more common specimens may fetch lower prices.