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Why Did the U.S. Mint Stop Making the Half-Cent?

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The half cent was in production from 1793 through 1857. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

The United States half cent is a denomination largely unknown by those outside of the numismatic realm. Struck from 1793 through 1857, it’s a coin that virtually anybody alive today would have used in circulation; those who did would have done so decades after the last was struck — perhaps a gesture of novelty or lack of knowledge about the coin’s numismatic premium above its tiny face value.

Trying to understand how a coin as small as the half cent would have functioned in circulation might be difficult for some to visualize. This is particularly the case given how low the denomination is, especially by today’s standards, skewed by more than 150 years of inflation and changing cultural norms.

Half cents are made from pure copper, and in their heyday they had enough buying power to mean something — especially when laborers in many parts of the United States were earning 50 cents to $1 a day during the early stretches of the 19th century. Eventually, inflation set in and the half cent was worth less and less as time marched along.

By the mid-1850s, the half cent’s purchasing power was equivalent to that of about 15 cents today. The half cent was deemed to be worth too little to continue on in production, and thus it was scrapped with the passage of the Coinage Act of 1857, a set of laws that also authorized the small cent to replace the large cent (due to inflation and rising copper costs).

While the half cent has long become an obsolete coin, its value as a collectible has only increased over the generations. Half cents are generally regarded as scarce to rare, and those that are problem-free with original surfaces are highly desirable. Most trade for about $50 and up in grades of PCGS G4 and are usually collected as components of type sets. However, some ambitious collectors do attempt cobbling together an entire run based on date and variety, as seen with some of the impressive half cent cabinets in the PCGS Set Registry.

History Half Cents (1793-1857)

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