Representing the final type for the denomination, the Braided Hair Half Cent was introduced in 1840 although production for circulation would not commence until nearly a decade later. For the years 1840 to 1848 the coins were made in proof version only, with both originals and restrikes made. The circulation strikes minted from 1849 to 1857 had relatively low mintages, however the coins remain readily accessible in circulated grades. The proof only issues as well as any circulation strikes surviving in higher grades particularly with original mint red coloration are considered rare and highly sought by collectors.
The half cent had been an important denomination when first introduced in the 1790’s, however it had fallen into disuse by the mid 19th century. By this time the economy of the country had grown to such a point that the cent now served as the smallest medium of exchange. After the final braided hair type for the half cent denomination was introduced in 1840, it would not be struck for circulation until 1849, almost a decade after the first proofs had been struck at the Philadelphia Mint. This was a somewhat unusual situation within the spectrum of American coinage, at a time when the Mint did not yet produce proof strikings for collectors on a regular basis.
Like many other American coins of the era, the Braided Hair Half Cent was designed by Christian Gobrecht. The design was virtually identical his design used for the large cents which had been introduced in 1839. The obverse is also closely related albeit with some minor differences to the gold coinage that dominated the 19th century after the designs had been introduced in the late 1830s. These had also been designed by Gobrecht who obviously tried to create some uniformity in the nation’s coinage.
The obverse of the last half cents produced in the United States features a head of Liberty facing left. The word LIBERTY is inscribed on her hair hand with thirteen stars are around and the date is below. The reverse of the coins features a closed wreath, compromising of 27 leaves and 11 berries, with the denomination spelled as HALF CENT enclosed. The design of the wreath is loosely based on that of John Reich, who had introduced a similar type of reverse design on the half cents and cents first struck in the early 19th century. The words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA are placed around the wreath.
All design features were present on the hub, making identification of the specific reverse dies very difficult and only possible by closely studying the die states, or die lines present on every striking. This is a situation very different from earlier copper, silver, and gold coinage, where each die can typically be identified by placement of stars, the date, or reverse design features.