1809/6 Half Cent Conundrum(s)

The half cent years begin at 1793 and end at 1857. Several different designs of “Liberty” grace the obverse of the half cents with some facing left, some facing right, some with a liberty cap, some with hair down, and some with braided hair. But, for this discussion, let’s review the 1809 version which was the first year of the classic head design facing left.

1809/6 Half Cent Obverse in holder

NGC, one of the respected coin grading companies, certified this coin as an MS-61 Brown.

Before looking in greater detail, how could this error happen? Being the first year of a new design for the half cent, this could not be an overstrike – an 1809 over an 1806. The 1806 half cent’s Liberty faced right where the 1809 faced left.  

Too, the number on a coin is not like early typesetting where a printer sets individual letters and numbers then prints. The die for the coin had to be engraved. Now, perhaps the early die makers had number punches to help them make the dies. Perhaps the number was inverted when the die was first made.

Let’s look at closer views of the coin.

1809/6 Half Cent Obverse large view

She’s gorgeous for a 202 year old lady.

Here’s a view of the date. Looking to the left of the “9” you can see the curvature of where the “6” (really an inverted “9”) was initially.

1809/6 Half Cent Obverse date view

In his book, The Rare Coins of America, England, Ireland, Scotland, France and Germany…, William Von Bergen showed the varieties of the 1809 half cent including the 1809 over 6 (inverted 9). This version was the sixth edition with prices updated to June 1891. The three columns included prices for coins in Uncirculated, Fine and Good condition.

Now, fast forward to 2009 to take a look at the 2009 Red Book. It, too, includes the three same varieties of small o inside 0, 9 over inverted 9 and normal date.

1809/6 Half Cent Obverse 2009 Red Book

But, just two years later, the 2011 Red Book shows a different set of varieties.

1809/6 Half Cent Obverse 2011 Red Book

They still include the small o inside the 0 and the normal date, but the third variety is now shown as “Triple-punched 9.” [Note: this change could be in the 2010 Red Book too, just didn’t have one readily available to check.]

Did someone receive new information about the Mint’s processing of the 1809 half cents? Is the “9 over inverted 9” no longer a variety? After all of these years, what instigated the change?

Currently, the top certification companies are still recognizing the 1809/6 variety. One even shows the mintages for 1809/6 as follows: All grades –  approximately 1205, MS 60 or better –  approximately 50 and MS 65 or better –  approximately 2. The “approximately” is due to no one knowing for sure the exact population for the 1809/6 coins.

From early Mint records Mr. Von Bergen showed in his book (page 128), the Mint made $5772.86 of the 1809 half cents. Doing a little math, that equates to 1,154,572 coins ($5772.86 divided by $0.005). Doing a little more math, the percentage population for the 1809/6 half cent is 0.1% based on the approximate numbers.  Likewise, the percentage barely registers with the coins in grades MS60 or higher at 0.004%.

The conundrums remain, however. What human error created the die issue? Why didn’t the Mint’s early review methods catch the problem before any coins were struck? Why have the Red Book varieties for the 1809 half cent changed?

Numismatics includes mysteries to add to the fun.