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Half Cents, the smallest coin in United State history

We will review the particularities of half-cent coins. Why were they created? How many are there? What is their value?

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Medio Centavo de dolar

If you were impressed with the articles on the 2 cent and 3 cent coins I posted earlier, you will love this article on the U.S. half cent coins. I’m sure you will like it because the existence, in itself, of a half cent coin is something eye-catching.

In this article we will review the peculiarities of half pennies. I will try to answer the most common questions: Why were they created? How many of them exist? What is their value?

If you are really interested in American numismatics this is an article you must read.

What is a Half Cent or Half Cent?

The Half Cent, or Half Cent, was the smallest denomination coin minted in the United States in its entire numismatic history. These pieces are extremely rare and difficult to find today. That is why collectors love them.

The creation of this Half Cents coin was approved in the Coinage Act of 1792, April 2, 1792. The first Half Cents would be minted the following year after being approved by the U.S. Congress.

All coins of this denomination were produced at the Philadelphia Mint, therefore, we will find no mint marks on these pieces. Minting was suspended by the Coinage Act of February 21, 1857.

Why were the half centavo coins created?

The 1 cent coin, the 2 cent coin or the 3 cent coin in our days seem ridiculously worthless pieces. What’s more, studies show that you lose money when you decide to wait for change for one or two cents when you buy something in a store.

However, these low denomination coins were common currency and widely used some 200 years ago in the United States. In those times, with extremely low inflation, half-cent coins were created to accurately pay the wages of workers in North America.

Consider that a worker in the 17th century earned only a few dollars a week. A standard wage used to be $1 per 10-hour day. In such a situation every penny counted. What’s more, every half cent could make a difference.

Between its creation and its withdrawal from circulation there were 4 types of half-cent coins.

Variants of the US dollar “Half Cent”

There are 4 designs of Half Cent coins, which were changing from 1792 to 1857. Below, I show you these designs and discuss the most interesting aspects of each.

Liberty Cap

The first design for the half cent was made by Henry Voigt, a precision instrument maker, and chief coiner at the United States Mint for many years. The first half cent coin was minted in 1973, one year after it was passed into law, and is known as the Liberty Cap Half Cent.

There are two designs and three specific types of the Liberty Cap Half Cent. In one design the “Liberty” bust faces left and in the other faces right. The left-facing design was used only in 1793 and was one of the first coins minted in the United States.

Medio centavo Liberty Cap 1793
Liberty Cap 1793 half cent

Today this half cent coin can fetch over $80,000 on eBay or at numismatic auctions.

Medio centavo Liberty Cap 1794 y 1795
Half cent Liberty Cap 1794 and 1795

Of the Liberty Cap design facing right it is minted beginning in 1794. There is a variant with a large bust and another with a small bust. The coin with the large bust corresponds to the year 1794, then from 1795 the Mint reduced the bust size. These designs were made by Robert Scot.

Draped Bust

The coin design line known as Draped Bust is imposed on U.S. coins beginning in 1796. However, half-cent coins make the leap later, in 1800.

Medio centavo Busto Drapeado
Half cent Draped Bust

The Draped Bust half cent coin was designed by Gilbert Stuart and Robert Scot. This design is retained with several updates and almost insignificant changes between 1800 and 1808. These coins are not scarce, although depending on the degree of preservation they can be worth several thousand dollars.

Classic Head

In 1809 the design of the half-cent coins changes again. The designer of the coins is still Robert Scot.

Medio centavo Cabeza Clásica 1831
Half centavo Classic Head 1831

The design known as the Classic Head Half Cent would remain in circulation from 1809 until 1836. In between dates there were years when no coins of this denomination were issued. The most sought after dates by collectors are 1831 and 1836.

A half cent specimen, in high quality, from the year 1831 could be worth over $150,000.

Braided Hair

The Braided Hair half cent was first minted in 1840 and would be the final design until its release from circulation in 1857.

Medio centavo Braided Hair 1852
Half cent Braided Hair 1852

The designer of the coin was Christian Gobrecht, third chief engraver of the United States Mint from 1840 until his death. In other words, the redesign of the half-cent coin would be one of his first works as chief engraver.

Already in this model, the number of coins minted began to decrease. This makes the half centavo coins difficult to find today. The date 1852 is key, as only PROOF or proof pieces were minted in this year.

Why were the half-cent coins withdrawn?

Adjusting for inflation to the present day, a half-cent coin has a face value equivalent to 14 cents. This value was maintained since the creation of the half centavo coins, until their elimination by the Coinage Act of 1857.

In other words, we can rule out that the reason for the elimination of the coins was inflation. During the different years in which Half Cents were minted, their value remained stable.

What did NOT remain stable was the price of copper, the metal in which the half cent coins were minted. By mid 1857 the cost of producing a half cent coin was higher than the face value of the piece. It had to be eliminated.

Over the years the interest and demand for half-cent coins declined. This is one of the consequences of inflation. People begin to exchange larger amounts of money, and smaller denomination coins are no longer used.

How much are half cents worth?

Half Cents are all valuable, as most meet the three basic requirements that appraisers take into account when valuing old coins.

The lowest price can start at a few hundred dollars on a worn, low-grade specimen, and increases depending on date and preservation up to a few hundred thousand dollars. Some years in particular are hard to come by, and, therefore, collectors are willing to pay top dollar for them.

Many coin specialists love to collect half cents, looking for the different years, styles and varieties. A small variation can make a big difference in the value of half cents.

Where can I buy or sell US half cents?

You can buy U.S. half cents coins on many different sites. On eBay and Amazon it is common to find pieces you can find for sale, and many numismatic sales houses also have specimens waiting to be purchased.

You can buy online, in the mentioned marketplaces, but it is always safer to buy in recognized establishments. You must consider that since they are expensive pieces, a criminal could try to sell you a counterfeit half-cent coin.

The way to protect yourself against these unwanted situations is to buy only certified pieces.

On the other hand, the scarcer and rarer specimens are only seen at auctions, and are practically reserved for collectors with a large wallet.


I hope you liked this article on half-cent coins enough to awaken your interest to deepen your numismatic knowledge. This is a general text, which barely touches on the many curiosities that can be discovered about these pieces.

I do not rule out writing other articles, more specific, about curious coins or errors in the half-cent coins that add value. For example, when someone forgot a coin on the reverse side of the coin, leaving only 12 instead of the corresponding 13. Would you be interested in reading about this? Leave me a comment so I can find out.

I'm a passionate full-time blogger. I love writing about startups, how they can access key resources, avoid legal mistakes, respond to questions from angel investors as well as the reality check for startups. Continue reading my articles for more insight.

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