Liberty Seated Half Dime Design

The design for the Liberty Seated Half Dime was based on Britannia, who was featured on British coins. Artist Thomas Sully made a number of sketches from the concept. Assistant engraver Christian Gobrecht would work with the designs before they were considered to be suitable, and he is generally given credit for the overall design. During the course of the series there were a number of design alterations, which are broken down into different subtypes:

  • No Stars on obverse 1837-1838
  • Stars on obverse 1838-1853
  • Drapery from Elbow from 1840 onwards
  • Arrows at Date 1853-1855
  • Stars on obverse resumed 1856-1859
  • Legend on obverse 1860-1873

More details on the nature of the design changes follows.

Liberty Seated Half Dime, No Stars on Obverse

The first subtype, known as the “no stars” design, would be struck for one year at the Philadelphia Mint in 1837, and the following year in 1838 at the New Orleans Mint. The obverse features an image of Liberty seated on a rock. A pole is in her right hand with a phyrigian cap on top of it. She is looking over her left shoulder behind, and her right hand rests on a shield with the inscription LIBERTY. The lower field is occupied by the date, and the remaining fields were left empty. The reverse of the coin features a laurel wreath, with the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounding and the denomination spelled as HALF DIME within.


The original design was altered in 1838, when thirteen stars were added to the obverse. Since the stars were punched by hand, all dies are noticeably different, although only specialists pay attention to the different dies for coinage. The “stars on obverse” would be used until 1859, although other design changes would take place during this time.


In 1840, the Mint hired Robert Ball Hughes to make modifications to the Seated Liberty design. He made improvements to the seated figure of Liberty and added more drapery to the left of her elbow. The Liberty Seated Half Dimes with “drapery from elbow” would be struck for a portion of 1840 and then for the duration of the series, once again amidst other design changes.


Starting a portion of the way through 1853, arrows were added at both sides of the date. This was done to indicate the modification to the standard weight of the coin that had taken place. The “arrows at date” half dimes can be found from 1853 to 1855. After the arrows were removed, the newly adopted specifications would continue to be used.

Liberty Seated Half Dime, Legend on Obverse

The final subtype came in 1860 when both sides of the coin would experience the most significant changes. James B. Longacre modified the obverse and completely redesigned the reverse. The stars on the obverse were removed and replaced with the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. This change gives the subtype its name “Legend on Obverse.” The reverse was altered to feature a larger wreath, with different agricultural features. The denomination HALF DIME was still within, but in a different, taller font.