Half of one cent may seem like a minuscule amount of money in today’s dollars, but in the 18th century, many everyday goods could be bought for that amount. Items like drinks, snacks, newspapers and such cost just a fraction of a cent! With that in mind, when the United States Mint began producing copper coins in 1793, one the denominations it produced was the Half Cent.
First introduced in 1793, the Half Cent depicted a female figure on the obverse with a Phrygian cap of liberty. This image symbolized the freedom bestowed on a servant – and was meant as a reference to America’s newfound independence. The word “LIBERTY” was inscribed above the portrait and the date was engraved below.
On the reverse, a wreath surrounded the denomination “HALF CENT” with the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” at the periphery. Perhaps to clarify the exact value of the coin, the fraction “1/200” was engraved at 6:00 on the reverse. Given that the United States Dollar was still an extremely new currency system, perhaps the U.S. Mint wanted to make absolutely certain the value of a Half Cent was easily understood. The reverse motif that appeared on the 1793 Half Cent was extremely similar to what was used on the 1793 Wreath Cent.
Approximately 35,000 Half Cents were struck in 1793. This amount that may seem tiny compared to modern mintage figures, but represented a significant amount of output for the time. The U.S. Mint’s primary focus was producing small-denomination copper coinage, as they were the items most frequently used and needed to day-to-day commerce. In fact, the U.S. Mint did not begin to strike silver coins until 1794 and gold waited until 1795.
Today, it’s estimated that just a thousand or so 1793 Half Cents still remain in existence. The vast majority of these are heavily circulated in the Very Good to Fine range. A large number of coins also exhibit signs of corrosion, pitting, discoloration and other major flaws. Problem-free specimens with even color and natural color are quite scarce.
Amazingly, a small number of superbly preserved Gem Uncirculated coins have survived. A handful of pieces have been certified MS65 or better. One of these coins was offered for sale at auction in 2014; it was graded PCGS MS66 and realized an impressive $920,000. In addition, two MS65s have traded hands in recent years. One sold in 2014 for approximately $380,000 while the second fetched around $450,000 in 2016.