The Capped Bust half dollar, originally minted in 1807, was a replacement for the Draped Bust half design which had been minted since 1796. John Reich was the designer of the Capped Bust half dollar. Half dollars minted from 1794 to 1835 (which include the Capped Bust design) were minted in .8924 fine silver and .1076 copper, the 90% silver coins became standard in 1836.
The wonderful design of John Reich pictures the bust of Miss Liberty wearing a cap inscribed with the word liberty. Thirteen stars circle her with the date below her on the obverse. The reverse shows an eagle spreading its wings, its left talon hold an olive branch a symbol of peace; in his right claw are arrows, a sign of war a shield covers his chest. The words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA encircle the reverse of the coin and on a scroll below those words read E PLURIBUS UNUM. Most U.S. coins have the denomination on the coin once, but the Capped Bust half has the denomination three times. The value is seen twice on the edge and once on the reverse below the eagle which reads 50 C. On most US coins the edge, also known as the third side, is often over looked. This is not so with the Capped Bust half. On the issues from 1807 to 1814 the edge says FIFTY CENTS OR HALF A DOLLAR and from 1814 to 1831 a star is added between the words DOLLAR and FIFTY. From 1832 to 1836 vertical lines were added between the words. The lettered edge was discontinued in mid 1836 and did not return on American coins until 1907 on the high relief double eagle.
The design was modified slightly by Christian Gobrecht in 1836. One of the changes was the diameter. Since 1794 the diameter had been approximately 32.5 millimeters and the change shrunk it down to 30.0 millimeters. When Gobrecht revised the design in 1836 one of the adjustments he made was on the reverse. The denomination then read 50 CENTS. One other change was the elimination of the words E PLURIBUS UNUM. More changes were made in 1838. One such adjustment changed the words 50 CENTS to HALF DOL. This continued until the series end in 1839 when the Seated Liberty design was commenced. New changes in 1838 also included half dollars being struck at a branch mint in New Orleans.
There are also many interesting engraving mistakes that have warranted a lot of attention. One of the most famous is the 1817/4 variety which has just 8 known and is also quite expensive and auctions up to several hundred thousand dollars! Right behind it, in terms of rarity, is the 1838-O of which just 20 were minted and makes it one of the of the more well known American coins.
Most Capped Bust half dollars are not very expensive in mid circulated grades with the second rarest (not counting rare varieties) being the 1807. There are so many varieties that a special club was formed. The Bust Half Nut Club requires ownership of a large number of varieties in order to gain this coveted membership. Some of the more unusual varieties are overdates which are caused when the new date is punched in to the previous year’s die. Other fascinating mistakes include punctuated dates and problems with letter punches; the 1823 coin has 4 different 3s such as the patched 3 and the ugly 3. The pioneering of listing varieties was done by Al Overton who cataloged all the mistakes he could find so Capped Bust half dollar varieties are identified by Overton numbers. The field of Capped Bust half dollars is very fascinating and maybe someday I will be a member of the Bust Half Nut Club!