Chief Mint Engraver Christian Gobrecht and Braided Hair
Robert Patterson served as Director of the US Mint from 1835 to 1851. In 1840, Patterson decided to include the Half Cent coin in the Proof Sets that the Mint was striking for collectors who wanted one and, especially, for the dignitaries to whom the Mint presented special coin sets. So Patterson instructed the new Chief Engraver, Christian Gobrecht, to create new dies for that purpose.
Gobrecht redesigned the 1839 Large Cent and used that style for the 1840 Half Cents. He radically changed John Reich’s matronly Miss Liberty and gave her a younger, slimmer, more youthful style. Her hair was braided into a bun on the back of her head. She is now wearing a crown or tiara with the word “LIBERTY” emblazoned on it. With the current date below Miss Liberty, he placed 13 stars to surround her. The reverse remained unchanged except for very minor modifications.
Between 1840 and 1849, only proof coins were struck as the available supply of prior dated coins was sufficient to meet the demand. By 1848, there were some 80,000 half cents remaining in the Treasury’s vaults from 1834 and 1835 dates. But a larger shortage of silver coinage around 1849, also affected copper coinage and the Mint kept striking coins for circulation dated 1850 to 1857 when the denomination was discontinued altogether. In the 1850 to 1860 period, coin collecting became a popular hobby in the United States. Collectors of these copper half cents clamored for the Proof only dates of 1840 to 1849 so some of the Mint’s staff found the dies used to strike these proof coins and began striking “a few more coins.” These restrikes can be identified easily from the original proof strikings. The originals have large berries in the wreath, and the restrikes have small berries. But the mintages never exceeded more than 1,500 coins so they are extremely rare. Most dates seem to suffer from the black spotting that detracts from the eye appeal of copper coins. Brown or red-brown uncirculated coins are more commonly found.
Copper is a chemically active metal and, depending on the environment, these coins can suffer from carbon spots and corrosion marks. These imperfections must be taken into account when assigning a grade to them. On the obverse study carefully Liberty’s hair is just to the right of her ear and the hair curls on the lower part of her neck as they are the first spots to show the wear of any kind. On the reverse, check for traces of wear on the laurel wreath and on the bow as they are the highest points.
|Date||Design||Mintage||Fine Value||Unc Value|
|1840-1849||Braided Hair Proofs/Restrikes||1,500 +/-||$6,000 PF-63||$10,000 PF-65|
|1852||Braided Hair Restrike||Unknown||$3,000||$6,000|
Expand your collection today and shop for an 1849-1857 Braided Hair Half Cent AU.