The ESM Collection of Half Cents – A Monumental Offering

Did you know Stack’s Bowers Galleries upcoming sale of The ESM Collection is one of our most significant half cent offerings in recent years? Comprising 55 coins, the ESM Collection is a complete set of half cents by Guide Book variety. The set is ranked #2 Current Finest on the PCGS Registry in the categories Half Cents Basic Set, Circulation Strikes (1793-1857) and Half Cents with Major Varieties, Circulation Strikes (1793-1857), with a #4 All-Time Finest ranking on the former set, #3 All-Time Finest ranking on the latter set. The ESM Collection is a Gold Award Winner on the PCGS Set Registry for 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and a Certificate Award Winner for 2019.

Half cents, called the "Little Half Sisters" by Roger S. Cohen when he wrote about them years ago, were produced intermittently and in very small numbers in comparison to their bigger sisters, the copper cents.

The reason for this may lie in efficiency. Gold and silver coins were produced by the Mint as an accommodation for depositors. Only a small fee was charged. On the other hand, half cents and cents were made for the Mint’s own account. The difference between the cost of copper in scrap form (or in ready-made planchets) and the face value of the coins was pure profit. For a given quantity of copper, it was much more efficient to make a single cent than two half cents.

This concept is little known in numismatic circles today. The main reason given for the Mint’s limited and intermittent production of half cents is that they were unpopular. There is no evidence that this was the case, at least not initially, as is readily demonstrated by existing examples of early date half cents usually showing wear, sometimes extensive. In addition, many goods and services were priced at 12½ cents and 37½ cents, conforming to values associated with the Spanish one-reale or "bit" that was legal tender at the time and was valued at 12½ cents. A half cent was handy, as a "bit" could be approximated with a dime, two cents, and a half cent. The later years of the half cent series, beginning circa 1807, saw the decline in popularity of this denomination in circulation. For most years from 1807 through the series’ end in 1857, half cents became increasingly scarce in commercial channels, and very few newspaper or other printed accounts can be found concerning them. Decreasing demand led to a backlog of undistributed coins in the Mint, with a resulting reduction and interruption in production of new examples. By the time the denomination came to an end, it is likely that half cents were seen in circulation only rarely, and seldom outside of large East Coast commercial centers such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. During the 1790s, however, that was far in the future.

Half cents, the lowest federal coin denomination authorized under the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, were initially coined in mid-1793 with the first being released on July 20 of that year. The total mintage for half cents in 1793 was 35,334 coins. These feature the Liberty Cap with Head Left, a design made only in that year. The coins slipped quietly into circulation and attracted little or no notice in the popular press of the era. Beyond that, there are no known instances of any numismatists taking interest in the new coinage, which that year also included large copper cents. The several collectors and museums who specialized in coins concentrated on ancient Greek and Roman issues, coins of Europe, and medals of various nations. The Mint Cabinet, authorized in June 1838, eventually included half cents along with other coins acquired by finding them in circulation, deposits at the Mint, and by trading with collectors. The result was that the relatively few high grade 1793 half cents that survive did so by chance. Today they are important not only to half cent specialists, but to anyone endeavoring to form a set of United States coins by design types.

Half cents in 1794 featured Liberty facing to the right, with her portrait large and in high relief. This is also a distinct one-year-only design type, although some collectors combine it with the related small portrait Liberty Cap coins of 1795 to 1797.  High grade examples are even rarer than those of 1793.

From 1800 to 1808 Liberty faces to the right and sports a new hair style, her hair tied with a ribbon and her bust finely draped. There is no longer a pole and cap. This motif by noted artist Gilbert Stuart first appeared on silver dollars of 1795 (BB-51 and 52) and later on other denominations including the large cent in 1796, illustrating a trend that was to continue: designs found on half cents usually appeared a year or two after their debut in the large cent denomination. The reverse of the 1800 half cent is quite similar to the previous design.

In 1809, the Classic Head of Liberty made its appearance on the half cent denomination. Liberty faces left with her hair bound by a fillet, with LIBERTY in incuse letters. The date is below. Thirteen individual stars are around, with seven left and six right, save for one curious variety of 1828 which has but 12 stars. The reverse has a single branch bound at the bottom with a single bowed ribbon. HALF CENT is within and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around.

The year 1840 saw the introduction of the Braided Hair design. The head of Liberty faces left with a coronet inscribed LIBERTY. Thirteen stars arc around with the date below. The reverse is of similar design to the previous type. Only Proofs were minted from 1840 to 1848, as there were sufficient half cents of earlier dates on hand at the Mint and in commercial channels to take care of circulation needs. In 1849 the Braided Hair half cent was minted for circulation, after which it was produced continuously until 1857, with the exception of 1852, when only Proofs were struck.


Highlights of the ESM Collection of Half Cents include:


1793 Liberty Cap Half Cent. Head Left. C-3. Rarity-3. MS-63 BN (PCGS). Ex Eliasberg.

-1794 Liberty Cap Half Cent. C-1a. Rarity-2. Normal Head. Large Edge Letters. MS-62 BN (PCGS).

-1794 Liberty Cap Half Cent. C-9. Rarity-2. High-Relief Head. MS-63 BN (PCGS). CAC. Ex Eliasberg-Jung-Hesselgesser.

-1795 Liberty Cap Half Cent. C-1. Rarity-2. Lettered Edge, With Pole. MS-62 BN (PCGS).

-1795 Liberty Cap Half Cent. C-2a. Rarity-3. Lettered Edge, Punctuated Date. MS-62 BN (PCGS). PCGS Pop: 1/2.

-1795 Liberty Cap Half Cent. C-4. Rarity-3. Plain Edge, Punctuated Date. MS-62 BN (PCGS). Ex Lee. PCGS Pop: 1/1.

-1796 Liberty Cap Half Cent. C-1. Rarity-6-. No Pole. VG-10 (PCGS).

-1802/0 Draped Bust Half Cent. C-1. Rarity-5+. Reverse of 1800. VG-8 (PCGS).

-1807 Draped Bust Half Cent. C-1, the only known dies. Rarity-1. MS-64 BN (PCGS). PCGS Pop: 3/0.

-1809/’6′ Classic Head Half Cent. C-5. Rarity-1. 9/Inverted 9. MS-65 BN (PCGS). CAC. OGH. PCGS Pop: 5/0.

-1811 Classic Head Half Cent. C-2. Rarity-3. Close Date. MS-63 BN (PCGS). CAC. PCGS Pop: 1/2.

-1829 Classic Head Half Cent. C-1, the only known dies. Rarity-1. MS-66 RB (PCGS). CAC. OGH. PCGS Pop: 3/0.

-1831 Classic Head Half Cent. C-1, the only known dies. Rarity-6-. EF-45 (PCGS).


The ESM Collection will cross the block Thursday, March 19 as part of our Rarities Night Session, which begins at 6:00PM ET. View this collection.

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