10 Rarest Half Dollars Ever

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Half Dollars or 50-cent pieces are not widely circulated coins, but were heavily used in the past. In 2002, the U.S. Mint ceased production of half dollars for general circulation, but they are still minted in small quantities. Since half dollars are made of silver, many were melted down during various times in American history, leading to several rare varieties. All of the half dollars on this list have low remaining numbers and often sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction. While all of these half dollars are currently held in private collections, many coin collectors believe there are still a number of rare half dollars waiting to be found!

As of December 2020, the information on this list is as accurate as possible and will be updated as needed.

  1. 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar 16 Stars
  2. Estimated Number in Existence: 40
     Number Minted: Less than 1,000
    Mint: Philadelphia
    Current Value: $822,500 (price paid at auction)
    1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar 16 Stars
    photo source: PCGS


    Of the two versions of the 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollars minted that year, the one with 16 Stars is much rarer. No one knows the exact mintage of the 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollars with 16 Stars, but only about 40 examples have survived in any condition. Only three of these coins have been graded as mint condition and the finest example sold at auction for $822,500.

    Did You Know?

    The 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar with 16 Stars marked a turning point in American history as too many states to continue to symbolize each of them with an obverse star.


  3. 1817 Capped Bust Half Dollar Overdate
  4. Estimated Number in Existence: 11
     Number Minted: Unknown
    Mint: Philadelphia
    Current Value: $356,600 (price paid at auction)
    1817 Capped Bust Half Dollar Overdate
    photo source: PCGS

    The 1817 Capped Bust Half Dollar with Overdate error is one of the most famous coins in the Capped Bust half dollar series. The coin features fairly noticeable evidence that an older die was reused, which was common practice at the time. Part of the date from an older die was shaved off and the seven was re-punched, but some parts of the four are still visible. There aren’t any records indicating how many of these Overdate half dollars were minted, but 11 have been discovered so far.

    Did You Know?

    Coin collectors believe that there are more 1817 Capped Bust Half Dollars with the visible Overdate out there as four of these coins have been discovered since 2005, with the most recent one popping up in late 2013/early 2014.


  5. 1839 Capped Bust Half Dollar Small Letters Reverse
  6. Estimated Number in Existence: 10
     Number Minted: Unknown
    Mint: Philadelphia
    Current Value: $488,593
    1839 Capped Bust Half Dollar Small Letters Reverse
    photo source: PCGS

    The 1839 Capped Bust Half Dollar with Small Letters on the Reverse is the rarest of all Reeded Edge Half Dollars, except for some select proof issues. As its name suggests, the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “HALF DOL.” are smaller than the normal Capped Bust Half Dollars from the era. 1839 was the last year that the Capped Bust die was used before it was replaced with the Seated Liberty. There are no official records for how many of these coins were minted, but only about 10 have been discovered.

    Did You Know?

    The rare 1839 Capped Bust Half Dollars with Small Letters on the Reverse were not discovered until 1972 by New York numismatist, Maurice Rosen.


  7. 1838 O Capped Bust Half Dollar Proof
  8. Estimated Number in Existence: 6
     Number Minted: Less than 20
    Mint: New Orleans
    Current Value: $763,750 (price paid at auction)
    1838 O Capped Bust Half Dollar Proof
    photo source: PCGS

    The 1838 O Capped Bust Half Dollar Proof is considered one of the rarest U.S. coins of any denomination. These coins were struck just after the New Orleans Mint opened and unfortunately there are no official records for how many Capped Bust Half Dollar Proofs were actually produced. It is believed that less than 20 were made and only six currently exist. The report did mention that two pairs of 1838-dated half dollar dies were mailed from the Philadelphia Mint in April and received in New Orleans by May 3, 1838. The lack of proper record keeping at the New Orleans Mint that year is attributed to the many problems the mint faced, including equipment breakdowns.

    Did You Know?

    The 1838 O Capped Bust Half Dollar Proof is believed to be the earliest proof coin struck at any branch mint outside of the main U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.


  9. 1827 Capped Bust Half Dollar Proof
  10. Estimated Number in Existence: 5
     Number Minted: Less than 8
    Mint: Philadelphia
    Current Value: $258,500 (price paid at auction)
    1827 Capped Bust Half Dollar Proof
    photo source: PCGS

    In the early 19th century, proof coins were only struck when they were requested by collectors. Of course, at this time not that many people were collecting American coins, so any of these proofs that survived from the era are rare and valuable. This is the case with the 1827 Capped Bust Half Dollar Proofs. Only eight such coins were minted and five are currently accounted for.

    Did You Know?

    The finest example of an 1827 Capped Bust Half Dollar Proof was sold for $258,500 and it received the highest grade ever offered to a Proof Capped Bust half dollar of any date.


  11. 1839 Seated Liberty Proof with No Drapery
  12. Estimated Number in Existence: 5
     Number Minted: Less than 6
    Mint: Philadelphia
    Current Value: $241,500 (price paid at auction)
    1839 Seated Liberty Proof with No Drapery
    photo source: PCGS

    In general proof coins are rare, especially ones from the early 19th century. The 1839 Seated Liberty Proof with No Drapery is no exception to this rule and there are only three in existence. It is believed that five of these proof coins were struck and so far five have been identified. While the regular 1839 Seated Liberty Half Dollars have an extra piece of drapery over Lady Liberty’s left arm, these initial proofs lack that part of the coin’s design.

    Did You Know?

    True 1839 Seated Liberty Proofs with No Drapery have a very fine crack through the base of HALF DOL. under the eagle.


  13. 1853 O Seated Liberty with No Arrows/No Rays
  14. Estimated Number in Existence: 4
     Number Minted: Less than Unknown
    Mint: New Orleans
    Current Value: $517,000
    1839 Seated Liberty Proof with No Drapery
    photo source: USA Coin Book


    The 1853 O Seated Liberty with No Arrows/No Rays is one of the rarest in the Seated Liberty half dollar series. No one knows for sure how many of these Seated Liberty without the arrows were minted in New Orleans, but only four have been discovered. The rarity of these coins is because 1853 was a transitional year for the Seated Liberty half dollar. The No Arrows versions were minted early in the year before the new dies with arrows from Philadelphia arrived. The arrows were added to denote that the half dollars had a lower percentage of silver. It is believed that most of the Seated Liberty half dollars from earlier in the year were melted down because of their high silver content.

    Did You Know?

    The New Orleans Mint probably did not report the number of 1853 O Seated Liberty with No Arrows/No Rays half dollars minted because the Act of February 21, 1853 made those coins obsolete.


  15. 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar 15 Stars Specimen
  16. Estimated Number in Existence: 1
     Number Minted: 1
    Mint: New Orleans
    Current Value: $587,500
    1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar 15 Stars Specimen
    photo source: PCGS

    This 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar with 15 Stars Specimen was specially struck and only one coin was made and still exists. The incredibly rare Specimen coin has been well loved and is still in mint condition after 224 years. The coin sold at auction for $587,500 and is the only example of the Draped Bust Half Dollar with 15 Stars to have ever been recognized by PCGS as a specially struck piece. It is believed the coin was specially struck for presentation or some other non-circulation function.

    Did You Know?

    The 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar with 15 Stars Specimen is so finely crafted that it even shows the lint marks from the cloth used to wipe down the dies right before it was struck.


  17. 1866 Seated Liberty Proof with No Motto/No Arrows
  18. Estimated Number in Existence: 1
     Number Minted: 1
    Mint: Philadelphia
    Current Value: $1,164,086 (price paid at auction)
    1866 Seated Liberty Proof with No Motto/No Arrows
    photo source: PCGS

    The 1866 Seated Liberty Proof with No Motto/Arrows is an incredibly rare and unique half dollar. Only one of these proof coins was ever minted and it was kept in good condition. This 1866 Seated Liberty Proof does not feature the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” above the eagle. The motto was later added to all half dollars minted that year. The rare half dollar has only been put up for auction three times over the past 154 years and last sold for $1,164,086!

    Did You Know?

    The 1866 Seated Liberty Proof with No Motto/Arrows is part of a collection containing two Seated Liberty Dollar Coins without the motto, which are also worth over $1 million apiece.


  19. 1873 S Seated Liberty No Arrows
  20. Estimated Number in Existence: None
     Number Minted: 5,000
    Mint: San Francisco
    Current Value: N/A, but most likely well over $1 Million
    1873 S Seated Liberty No Arrows
    photo source: USA Coin Book

    Although 5,000 1873 S Seated Liberty Half Dollars with No Arrows were minted, currently none are known to exist in any collection, making it the rarest half dollar ever. On February 12, 1873, the Mint Act was passed, which marked the end of of the silver half dime and it is believed that all of the Seated Liberty Half Dollars were melted down before ever leaving the San Francisco Mint. Avid coin collectors hope that one of these rare half dollars might have escaped. If an 1837 S Seated Liberty Half Dollar with No Arrows ever shows up, it’ll likely be worth well over $1 million.

    Did You Know?

    In addition to the missing 1873 S Seated Liberty Half Dollars with No Arrows, one of the last great mysteries of numismatics are the 700 1873 S Seated Liberty Silver Dollars that have also never been seen, but are known from Mint records.

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