Learn About John Reich’s 1809-1836 Classic Half Cents
John Reich was a German medallist and engraver born in 1768. As the 18th Century was drawing to a close, Europe was experiencing political unrest and turmoil. The French Revolution was well underway and unrest with monarchies across the continent was rampant. Given that the newly-formed United States was peaceful, Reich sought passage to America. Arriving in 1800, Reich desperately wanted to work for the US Mint, engraving coins.
Reich’s work came to the attention of President Thomas Jefferson and in 1801 Jefferson recommended that Reich be appointed as Assistant Engraver at the US Mint. But the Chief Engraver, Robert Scot, vehemently opposed Reich’s appointment. There was some professional jealousy at play and although Reich now had a position at the Mint he did not engrave any coins.
By 1807, Scot was now 62 years old and with failing eyesight he no longer opposed Reich’s appointment to the Assistant Engraver’s position. The new Director of the US Mint was Robert Patterson. He believed, as did Jefferson, that Reich’s talents were being wasted and he gave him the mission of redesigning many of the coins then in circulation. Reich redesigned the half dollar, the gold half eagle, the cent, the gold quarter eagle, the dime and finally, the half-cent.
Reich created a new face for Miss Liberty. She seemed older, less showy, her curls held back on her head by a band prominently inscribed with the word “LIBERTY”. 13 stars encircled her, representing the original colonies and the date was inscribed below. The reverse of the coin remained much unchanged with the denomination in the cent, a wreath around it. The “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” surmounted the wreath. This design was used long after Reich departed the US Mint. He resigned in 1817, a decade after finally getting his appointment. Reich left because he never had the opportunity to succeed Scot who refused to leave his position. In fact, he never received praise or even a raise from Chief Engraver Scot.
By 1809, the half-cent was losing its value in commerce as inflation increased prices for most goods. The demand for half cents was decreasing. But a bigger problem was growing. The copper planchets used to strike the coins were made in England and the manufacturer had run out of these planchets by 1811. Hostilities occurred between the United States and Great Britain once again and by 1812 there was an embargo on all British goods coming to America. But once the War of 1812 had ended the production of Half Cents remained stopped for another 14 years.
By 1825, there was a critical shortage of coinage in the United States. The new Chief Engraver of the Mint, William Kneass slightly modified Reich’s designs and the Mint set about striking coins including the Half Cent.
Anticipating that only large supplies of coins would overtake the shortages, the Mint struck thousands of Half Cents. But either the demand was overblown or the bias against the smallest denomination had grown. By 1830, hundreds of thousands of Half Cents sat idly in the US Mint’s vaults. They were languishing for a lack of demand.
No Half Cents were struck during 1830. Coinage ceased until 1831 when only a couple of thousand coins were struck. Production resumed but was yet again stopped in 1836. Only a small handful of 1836-dated Half Cents was struck, mostly for collectors. Into the 1850s, employees of the Mint who had access to the old dies made illegal strikes on the 1831 and 1836 dates. Authorized proof coins dated 1836 were struck for the collectors ordering them. But most of the Proofs are later Mint restrikes.
The Classic Head Half Cent series has numerous varieties. 1809 has several varieties, none of them particularly scarce. 1810 escaped the variety challenge. 1811 has 2 minor varieties – a wide date, a close date – and a major rarity – 1811 with a reverse of 1802. It is unofficial; a restrike that is extremely pricey. 1825 and 1826 years were uneventful. 1828 saw two major varieties that are easy to spot – one has 12 stars on the obverse and the other has 13 stars. 1829 is a variety-less year. All 1831 dated Half Cents are proof of Original and restrike issues and all are extremely expensive. 1832 through 1835 are common coins. But 1836, like 1831 is a Proof only date with both Originals and Restrikes and a hefty price tag.
|Date||Design||Mintage||Fine Value||Unc Value|
|1811 Wide/Close||Classic Head||63,140||$1,750||$30,000|
|1811 Rev of ‘02||Classic Head||Unknown||$10,000||$18,000|
|1828 13/12 Stars||Classic Head||606,000||$100||$1,250|
|1831 Original||Classic Head||2,200||Proof $50,000||Proof $150,000|
|1831 Restrike Lg Berries||Classic Head||Included||Proof $5,000||Proof $15,000|
|1831 Restrike Sm Berries||Classic Head||Included||Proof $7,500||Proof $22,500|
|1836 Original||Classic Head||Unknown||Proof $4,000||Proof $8,000|
|1836 Restrike||Classic Head||Unknown||Proof $7,500||Proof $20,000|
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