Guide to U.S. Braided Hair Half Cents
Representing the final type for the denomination, the Braided Hair Half Cent (Buy on eBay) was introduced in 1840. For the initial years of the series from 1840 to 1848, the coins were produced in proof format only, including both originals and restrikes. Circulation strikes would be minted from 1849 to 1857 in relatively limited mintages. Any proof-only as well as any circulation strike issues surviving in high grades with full red coloration are 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. At the same time, the price of copper had increased making the half cents and large cents unprofitable for the Mint to produce. The situation would be rectified by the Coinage Act of 1857, which discontinued the half cent and changed the format of the cent.
The Braided Hair Half Cent was designed by Christian Gobrecht and nearly identical to his design used for the large cents. The obverse is also closely related to the designs introduced on gold coinage in the late 1830’s. These had also been created by Gobrecht, who tried to bring uniformity in the nation’s coinage with consistent designs across denominations.
The obverse for the final half cent design features the head of Liberty facing left. The word “LIBERTY” is inscribed on her hairband, with thirteen stars around and the date below. The reverse features a closed wreath, compromising of 27 leaves and 11 berries, with the denomination “HALF CENT” placed within. The wreath is loosely based on the work of John Reich, who had introduced a similar reverse design on the cents and half cents of the previous type. The words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” are placed around the wreath.
For this series 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 each striking. This is a very different situation than earlier copper, silver, and gold coinage, where each die can typically be identified by placement of stars, the date, or specific design features.