A coin does not have to be rare to be interesting and that is certainly the case with the 1855 half cent. With a mintage of 56,500, the 1855 half cent would not be considered common but as half cent mintages went at the time neither is it unusually tough.
It is probably to be expected as back in 1855 collecting interest was increasing, and it would take a big jump a few years later when the 1857 Flying Eagle cent would appear. Suddenly significant numbers of people wanted to collect coins, and in particular, the disappearing large cents by date. In all probability some were also interested in half cents as just like the large cents they were on their way out of circulation.
The period was a fascinating one on a variety of fronts and the place of half cents in circulation was certainly one of those fronts. The half cent had gone literally the entire decade of the 1840s without a coin being produced for circulation, and although business strikes were back in the 1850s it was really just a brief period of production as officials had already come to the conclusion that the denomination had no future. For all practical purposes the half cent was basically just seeing token production waiting until the day it was eliminated.
As it turned out there would be a number of hoards of the last years of half cents, including the 1855.
One hoard discussed in the Q. David Bowers book ?American Coin Treasures and Hoards? appears to have almost been an impulse purchase by Judge J. P. Putnam, who happened to be a member of the Assay Commission in 1864, 1868, 1871 and 1877. As a member of the Assay Commission he would travel from his native Boston to Phildalephia. Putnam was not without contacts among the collector and dealer community of the time
We suspect that in his Assay Commission visit to the city of Philadelphia in 1864 he decided to acquire a few items at the Mint and one included a small number of 1855 half cents.
According to Bowers there was at least one other hoard of 1855 half cents. That hoard was located in Troy, N.Y., in the shop of Charles French who apparently had a small bag of 500 uncirculated examples which he kept selling, according to Bowers, until the 1960s.
One of the fascinating challenges to old hoard stories is to determine whether we can spot evidence of a hoard from a century ago in the grading service totals today. In fact, at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation in Mint State the 1855 is heavily represented having had over 600 appearances, far more than other dates of the period. The Professional Coin Grading Service situation is similar. The 1855 has appeared in Mint State around 700 times while the very similar mintage 1854 is below 250 appearances in Mint State.
The grading service totals cannot be seen as proof of the Putnam or French hoards, but if today?s supply is not at least in part a result of the coins reported in those hoards there must have been others because there is really no doubt that in Mint State the 1855 is seen more often than other dates from the same period.
It?s interesting as the prices don?t really reflect the fact as the prices of the 1855 and other final year half cents are all basically the same starting at $50 in G-4 and rising to $300 in MS-60. In fact, the 1855 can be found with some regularity even in higher grades, but the real fun of the 1855 is that it is a half cent which most can afford in top grades and it comes with a great story.