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The 1794 Half Cent

This 1794 half cent is graded XF-45 by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions,

This 1794 half cent is graded XF-45 by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions,

There are a lot of interesting questions to be raised about the 1794 half cent, and in some cases the only one who can answer the question is you. That makes the 1794 half cent a piece that no two collectors may view the same way.

The half cent situation in 1794 was somewhat unsettled. In fact, virtually everything at the United States Mint in 1794 was somewhat unsettled. It was, after all, only the second year of its operation, and the first year had been chaotic. There had been large cent and half cent production only in 1793 thanks to a dispute over a $10,000 bond officials needed to post before making gold and silver coins. Even those copper coins that could be made had been the subject of severe criticism, especially the first 1793 cent with a linked chain reverse.

Things were looking up in 1794. The large cent had its third new design that would last for a couple years. The bond problem was being settled, and the half cent would have a new design in the form of a Robert Scot Liberty head facing right design.

As it would turn out, the design was basically the same through 1797 but in the case of the 1794, there is a distinct difference in the size of the head. The general style is the same, but there are clear differences that has produced some confusion as to whether the 1794 is a different type or not.

The debate is significant for those assembling type sets and for the future prices of the 1794. The 1794 today is priced at $800 in G-4 with an XF-40 at $4,625 and an MS-60 at $34,000. In that price range, the 1794 is at average prices for a half cent of the heading facing right design.

If, however, the 81,600-mintage 1794 is considered a different type, that could suddenly increase demand significantly. And the fact is that there is a very limited supply of the 1794, especially in top grades. It was simply not saved in any numbers. There was very little saving of new coins at the time but in the case of the half cent, the likely date to have been saved was the first 1793 and not the second 1794.

As it stands, the 1794 is something of a potentially sleeping giant. In his book, A Guide Book of United States Type Coins, Q. David Bowers suggests discussing the 1794 in top grades, “In high grades, truly choice coins are rare – more so than the famous 1793. In this category the 1794 Large Liberty Head is the Holy Grail of half cent types.”

It appears that not many are viewing the 1794 as a different type. As Bowers suggests in considering the purchase of a 1794, “ You do have the market advantage that not everyone considers the 1794 to be a separate type, and, beyond that, relatively few non-specialists are aware of the rarity of pieces with good eye appeal.”

Certainly if sought by more as a type coin, the 1794 has the potential to rise to much higher prices, at least in top grades.

Certainly the potential is there for the 1794 to be not only much more expensive than it currently is, but also much more important as a one-year type that is extremely elusive in top grades.

In fact, the inclusion in the Bowers books as a distinct type is probably going to help sway a number of people to that line of thinking. It is also a fair point of view since clearly there are very real differences between the 1794 and the dates that followed that had a head facing right but a smaller and slightly different head.

In the end, however, the future of the 1794 will be determined by you and others who decide one way or the other how you will treat the 1794. If it is just a style difference, it is probably fairly priced. If, however, you decide that the 1794 is in fact a different type, that could produce a very different result. There are no fixed answers, so you can weigh the evidence and decide. Whatever your decision, the 1794 will remain a very good coin and a very tough one in higher grades.

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