Major Design Subtypes


[The following article is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its authors, Randy Wiley and Bill Bugert. This information was originally published in 1993 in The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars.]

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Since the beginning of time, human beings have been collectors. Over the years, nearly every material object imaginable has been collected; not the least of which is coins. Coin collections are characterized by the “type” of coins they contain, In this regard, “type” may be defined as “the general form, style, or character distinguishing a particular kind, class, or group” and “subtype” is defined as “a more special type included in a general type”.

A collection of coins from different countries of the world may contain only a single coin from the United States of America. In this case, the distinguishing characteristic is nationality type. A more specialized collection may contain metal types (gold, silver, copper, etc.) for each nationality or denomination types (dollar, half dollar, quarter, dime, etc.) for each metal. It may even contain major design types for various denominations (i.e. half dollars of the Capped Bust, Liberty Seated, Liberty Head, etc. design types).

This book deals exclusively with U.S. Half Dollars of the Liberty Seated design type previously described. This design, like all designs on U.S. coinage, was prompted by aesthetic preferences and political pressures generated by people in positions of power at the time. It is remarkable that the basic Liberty Seated obverse design remained married to the basic RRE reverse design for 53 years (1839-1891), and it comes as no great surprise that some significant modifications were made to the basic design over that span.

In our opinion, U.S. half dollars of the Liberty Seated design type can be further broken down into 8 major design sub-types. All of these subtypes incorporate the basic Liberty Seated obverse design married to the Redrawn Reich Eagle reverse design, but each subtype has some unique design characteristic to one or both dies which sets it apart from all other subtypes.

The 8 subtypes of Liberty Seated Half Dollars are described as follows:

SUBTYPE I: 1839 only


SUBTYPE 1. This coinage was a product of the basic Liberty Seated obverse design and the RRE reverse design described in great detail in the previous section. It is important to understand that these descriptions depict the final product in the coinage process (i.e. the actual half dollar coins) and that the process of generating coins which replicate an artist’s model is not a simple one.

According to Taxay [26], a wax or clay model of the central design was sculptured in relief (positive image) from which a plaster casting (negative image) was made which, in its turn, served as a model for a metal casting (positive image). Most likely, the Liberty Seated casting was made of fine iron. Then using a piece of machinery purchased in 1836 called a reducing pantograph or portrait lathe, a smaller replica of the metal model was carved into a steel cylinder (the hub blank). This rough carving received considerable hand finishing to bring out the fine details of the central device, and most likely, the word LIBERTY was hand punched into the obverse shield. Likewise, all of the horizontal and vertical lines within the shields on both the obverse and reverse were hand punched into the hubs at this stage or during subsequent master die preparation. Once finished, this reduced positive image of the central device model became known as the master hub. The master hub was used to sink (using a screw press) a preliminary master die (negative image of the central device) to which a border (denticles) and stars (or legend and denomination in the case of the reverse die) were added by individual hand punches. This die was polished to clean up evidence of all the handwork and became known as the master die (negative image of actual coin except without a date). The master die was used to raise (also using a screw press) a series of one or more working hubs (positive images) as needed. Each working hub was used to sink (via screw press) many working dies (negative images). Each working head die received a date, and working tail dies prepared for branch mints received mint marks via hand punches. Most working dies were also worked over by hand to reinforce weak features in the dies such as shield lines, stars, foot support, drapery, etc. before receiving a final polishing and being put to use. Working die pairs (head and tail) were then mounted in a steam driven coining press where they typically stamped out 100,000 – 200,000 coins (positive images) in their lifetime.

SUBTYPE II: 1839-1842

SUBTYPE II. After its introduction in 1836, the Liberty Seated Dollar was confronted with considerable public uproar concerning certain “indecent” aspects of Ms. Liberty’s gown. In response to this outcry, a new model of the Liberty Seated central device was constructed by Robert Ball Hughes which among other things, added several folds of drapery to Liberty’s gown in the area of her elbow. This new model was used to prepare new master hubs for dollars, quarters, dimes, and half- dimes which were introduced in 1840. Gobrecht’s original Liberty Seated design escaped extinction when Gobrecht undertook a modification to the half dollar master die in 1839 to add a drapery to the design. We believe that Gobrecht punched the drapery feature directly into the existing half dollar master die. Then using a screw press, the master die was used to raise a new preliminary master hub (positive image). Once raised, Gobrecht carved away part of the hub to bring it back into balance. In particular, the rock was slightly reduced below Liberty’s foot and considerably reduced in the area of the first star. The separation between the rock and first star is much greater on subtype 11 coins than on subtype 1. This new hub was hand finished and became a new master hub which was used to sink (via screw press) a new master die for Liberty Seated Half Dollars. We believe the process described above is correct because the number of denticles (146) in the border remained unchanged and the relationship of the 13 star points to the denticles remained unchanged. However, the border is more heavily impressed on subtype II coins as are the stars indicating that they were reworked into the new master die. Stars 3 and 5 in particular have extra points on subtype 11 coins which show on early die states. This second master die for the Liberty Seated design would endure for the remainder of the series (until 1891).

SUBTYPE III: 1840 (0) Only

SUBTYPE III. This subtype occurred as a result of circumstance rather than any structured change to the design of the Liberty Seated coinage. Head dies of the Capped Bust half dollar design were sent to the New Orleans Branch Mint in 1839 along with companion tail dies of the Reich Eagle design. These tail dies had no mintmark as it was the practice in 1838 and 1839 to apply the mintmark (0) to the head dies sent to New Orleans. One such tail die with no mintmark was not used in 1839 and was reserved for use in 1840 when other used dies were canceled [181. Subsequent use of this die in 1840 at the New Orleans Branch Mint gave birth to this unique subtype which until recently was considered a pattern or regular issue of the Philadelphia Mint.

Two die marriages are known for the 1840 (0) half dollar with Original Reich Eagle reverse. In 1986, the authors diagnostically die linked the two 1840 obverses in these die pairings to identical 1840 obverses paired with reverses having the (0) mintmark. It should also be noted that all of the half dollars minted in New Orleans in 1840 had smaller diameters than corresponding Philadelphia half dollars.

SUBTYPE IV: 1842-1852 / 1856-1866

SUBTYPE IV. Breen [91 says no reason has been found for the change to large letters in 1842. We believe that the change from small letters to large letters was made to improve the metal flow during the striking process. This reduced die breakage and improved the sharpness of strike of the coinage. We do not know if a new master hub was prepared using the portrait lathe or if the existing master hub was reworked (since the master hub contains only the central device) as the Redrawn Reich Eagle on both small letters reverse and large letters reverse are very similar in basic design. However, it is clear that a new preliminary master die was sunk from a master hub and that a new border (denticles) and large letters legend were hand punched into the die. We have recently discovered that one of the denticles over the center of R in AMERICA is flawed in that a chip is missing from the lower left side of the denticle. This diagnostic flaw can be used to identify all working hubs (and subsequent working dies and coins) produced from this master die. We also discovered that the large letters master die has 9 horizontal stripes in the shield as compared to 8 horizontal stripes for the small letters master die. We believe that this master die was used in conjunction with several different working hubs until 1866 when a new master die was prepared with motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” added to the existing design.

The Subtype IV design changed slightly in 1858 when a new working hub from the same master die was introduced. In theory, there was no change intended, but in practice, each hub from the same master die will take on some very slight individual characteristics during the finishing process much the same as working dies from the same hub are individually unique. In this instance, it appears that the letter L in HALF was altered to lengthen the base of the letter from .007” to .008” to correspond to the size of the L in DOL. After this and other minor adjustments were complete, the outer face of the master die was ground down and polished to remove signs of rework prior to raising the new hub. Consequently, the letters in the legend and denomination appear much more delicate and separated on the new hub variety 2 than they do on the old hub variety 1 which had letters which were very boldly raised, thus creating a congested appearance. As we said earlier, the key identification point regarding the reworked letters concerns the letter L in HALF. On hub variety 1, the base of the letter L in HALF is shorter and is distinctly separated from the letter F. On hub variety 2, the base of the L is longer and almost touches the base of F. Therefore, the ratio of the top right serif to the right base on the letter L is noticeably greater on hub variety 1 than on hub variety 2. Additionally, the variety 2 hub has an identification flaw which is obvious on high grade coins and discernable on grades as low as VG. There is a raised lump in the feathers along the left edge of the eagle’s left leg just below the junction of the leg with the left wing. The lump produced a hole in all working dies which in turn duplicated this lump on all hub variety 2 coins produced.

This hub variety change is not considered by the authors to be significant enough to warrant a separate Subtype designation although separate ‘WB” numbers are assigned to these hub varieties in years where both hub varieties exist together.

SUBTYPE V: 1853 only

SUBTYPE V. In 1853, both obverse and reverse designs for Liberty Seated Half Dollars were modified to signify a reduction (from 206.25 ± 1.5 grains to 192 ± 1.5 grains) in the official weight of the denomination. Arrowheads were added to either side of the date, and rays were added to the reverse. We believe that the Mint Director ordered that the new elements be added to master dies vice individual working dies to avoid the potential use of an unmarked die. We believe that “temporary” master dies were constructed for both obverse and reverse using the standard working hubs in use at the time. Once the new elements (date and arrowheads for obverse and rays for reverse) were added, the temporary master dies were used to raise corresponding working hubs of the modified design which, in turn, were used to produce all the working dies for 1853.

SUBTYPE VI: 1854-1855

SUBTYPE VI. As was done in 1853, we believe that a temporary master head die was prepared for 1854 and again in 1855 with date and arrowheads punched into the die. It is possible that the temporary hub prepared in 1853 was used in lieu of the standard working hub to sink the temporary master dies for 1854. Likewise, the temporary hub prepared in 1854 was used in lieu of the standard working hub to sink the temporary master die for 1855. If this was the case, the date or a portion of the date was cut off this hub prior to sinking the temporary master die. This could account for the trace of date “1854” seen on some coins dated 1855 and the Judd trial strikes with 1854 over 1853. The practice of adding rays to the reverse as done in 1853 was not continued beyond that year.

SUBTYPE VII: 1866-1872 / 1875-1891

SUBTYPE VII. A new master tail die was made in 1866 to which a scroll inscribed IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the field between the legend and the top of the eagle’s head. This is the most significant design modification to occur during the 53 year span of the coinage. Consequently, all Liberty Seated Half Dollars are classified as either “No-Motto” or ‘With Motto” subtypes.

Some researchers speculate that a new master die was not constructed in 1866. Rather, a motto was added to the existing master die. This cannot be true since “No-Motto” half dollars have 145 denticles in their border and “Motto” half dollars have 146 denticles in their border indicating that a new master die was definitely prepared. However, we have recently discovered that at least three working tail dies (including the 1866 proof die) were products of the old master die (145 denticles with a chipped denticle over R) whereby the motto was possibly added to the existing master die and a new working hub was raised. Alternately, the scroll with motto could have been punched directly into at least 3 working dies from the old “No-Motto” hub. If the latter is the case, it was done very carefully as we see no variation in the placement of the scroll on the 3 dies observed.

The subtype VII design changed slightly in 1876 when a new working hub was introduced by Charles Barber who signed his work by altering the lower bud (berry) on the olive branch from an “open” (split) configuration (Tail Hub Variety 1) to a “closed” (pointed) configuration (Tail Hub Variety 2). This change is not considered to be significant enough to warrant a separate subtype designation although separate ‘WB” numbers are assigned to these hub varieties in years where both hub varieties exist together.

SUBTYPE VIII: 1873-1874

SUBTYPE VIII. Arrowheads were placed on either side of the date in 1873 to signify an increase in the official weight (from 192.0 ± 1.5 grains to 192.9 ± 1.5 grains) of the half dollar denomination brought about by the U.S. Government as part of a larger program to convert the United States to the metric system of weight and measurement standards. Perhaps this very slight difference in weight accounts for the arrowheads being punched directly into working dies along with the date instead of being punched into the master die as was done during 1853-1855. This weight change was very slight (0.9 grains) when compared to the change in 1853 (14.25 grains). The tolerances of the authorized weights for the 1873 and post-1873 standards overlap, rendering the new 1873 weight standard almost meaningless and thereby allowing old planchets to be minted under the new standard. Figure 1-1 below depicts this relationship.

Table 1-1 is an outline of the eight subtypes for the Liberty Seated Half Dollar coins
(including hub varieties
introduced in 1858 and 1876).

Chapter 2 >>

About Randy Wiley & Bill Bugert

The authors of "The Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars", published by DLRC Press in 1993. This groundbreaking book was the first (and still the only) to offer an in-depth analysis and die variety study on the series. The books have been long out-of-print and are published now online for open access to all collectors.
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