[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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The Liberty Seated design was the only silver design seen by many Americans in the last century. This was the design of all major silver coinage (half dimes, dimes, twenty cents, quarters, half dollars, and dollars) during most of the 19th century. It is one of the longest minted, most widely used, and beautiful (in the authors’ prejudiced opinions) designs of American coinage. Excluding patterns, half dollars of this design were minted from 1839-1891.
The idea of a change from the Bust type coinage was conceived by Mint Director R. M. Patterson in 1835 when he wanted to model the obverse after the English copper coinage. Mint Engraver, William Kneass sketched Patterson’s concept, but suffered a crippling stroke prior to its implementation. Philadelphia artists Thomas Sully and Titian Peale improved the sketches of Kneass’ design, but it was the new Mint employee Christian Gobrecht who, in October 1835, submitted a copper-plate impression of the design to Secretary of Treasury Levi Woodbury for approval. Gobrecht’s basic design portrayed the Goddess Liberty looking vigilantly back over her right shoulder while seated upon a rock. She was wearing a Greek chiton (loose flowing gown) which was clasped at her shoulder, and her neck and arms were exposed. Her right hand supported the Shield of the United States which was wrapped in a scroll inscribed LIBERTY and had its point resting upon the ground, and her left hand held a pole surmounted by a pileus (a liberty cap emblematic of distinction).
Thirteen stars, representing the thirteen original states, were spaced around the design except for the area below the rock which was reserved for the date. This would be subsequently added to all working dies produced from the basic design. As with all early silver coinage, the outer border would be marked with equally spaced line segments called denticles. Woodbury approved the design, and Christian Gobrecht, who became the Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint from late 1840 until his death in 1844, is credited with the Liberty Seated design.
Dollars were coined in the following year (1836) using obverse dies of the new Liberty Seated design paired with the reverse dies of an equally new Flying Eagle design credited to Titian Peale and Christian Gobrecht. However, half dollars of the Liberty Seated design type were not introduced until 1839, and for some undocumented reason, the flying eagle reverse introduced on 1836 dollars was never used for half dollars. Rather, a reverse design depicting an eagle introduced in 1807 by John Reich for the Capped Bust coinage was redrawn by Gobrecht for the Liberty Seated half dollar.
The basic Redrawn Reich Eagle (RRE) design portrays an eagle with wings displayed inverted bearing the shield of the United States upon its breast. The eagle is clutching an olive branch (symbolizing peace) in its right claw and three arrows (symbolizing preparedness for war) in its left claw. The field surrounding the eagle contains the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA above the eagle and the denomination HALF DOL. below the eagle. Like the obverse, the reverse rim has denticles spaced around its border.