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Top 10 Most Expensive Half Dollars in the World

Top 10 Most Expensive Half Dollars in the World

Fifty-cent pieces (half dollars) got their start back in 1794, but they quietly disappeared from circulation throughout the early 1980s, eventually becoming non-circulation collector’s items in the early 2000s. The relative rarity of this coin is one of the many reasons half dollars have become high-value specimens. But which half dollars are the most expensive?

The most expensive U.S. half dollar is the 1796 Draped Bust half dollar (16 Stars). This half dollar sold for $1.8 million in January 2023, shattering its previous auction record of $822,500. This historically-significant coin is the finest 16-Stars 1976 Draped Bust half dollar in the world.

Although half dollars are no longer popular in-circulation coins, they remain a popular collector’s item. Many of these fifty-cent pieces have appreciated in value, reaching truly jaw-dropping sales prices. This ranking will reveal the priciest of these unique coins.

Here Are the Top 10 Most Expensive Half Dollars in the World:

  1. 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar (16 Stars, O-102) – $1.8 million
  2. 1797 Draped Bust Half Dollar – $1.68 million
  3. 1794 Flowing Hair Half Dollar – $870,000
  4. 1838-O Proof Capped Bust Half Dollar – $763,750
  5. 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar (15 Stars, O-101) – $587,500
  6. 1795 O-117 Flowing Hair Half Dollar – $552,000
  7. 1795 O-126a Small Head Half Dollar – $528,000
  8. 1853-O Liberty Seated Half Dollar (No Arrows) – $517,000
  9. 1839-O Proof Capped Bust Half Dollar – $373,750
  10. 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar (15 Stars) – $373,750

10. 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar (15 Stars) – $373,750

Grade: NGC MS-63

Auction House: Heritage Auctions

photo source: PCGS

When it comes to high-value half dollars, there are generally two top contenders: 1795 half dollars and the iconic 1796 Draped Bust half dollar. The latter comes in a few unique varieties, including one with 15 stars on its obverse (front) side.

This 15-Stars 1796 Draped Bust half dollar is quite rare, and not only because it was produced more than two centuries years ago.

The U.S. Mint only had a single production facility in 1796, the Philadelphia Mint (then called the “Ye Olde Mint”). This single facility had limited production capabilities, so many of its first coin releases were limited, especially compared to the incredible number of coins produced at modern facilities.

For perspective, the Philadelphia Mint struck about 1.5 billion quarters in 2020. But in 1796, it struck fewer than 4,000 Draped Bust half dollars.

The handful of 1796 Draped Bust half dollars (15 Stars) that have survived the last 200+ years are often in lackluster shape due to poor storage conditions and handling. But a select few have retained their mint luster, with limited signs of damage.

That’s the case with the MS-63 1796 Draped Bust half dollars (15 Stars) that sold for $373,750 in 2008.

Although this fifty-cent piece isn’t exactly in like-new condition, it’s a valuable specimen thanks to its rarity, historical significance, and comparatively high grading.

Still, this 1796 Draped Bust half dollar isn’t the costliest of its year. But we’ll discuss that further in just a few moments.

9. 1839-O Proof Capped Bust Half Dollar – $373,750

Grade: NGC PR-65

Auction House: Goldberg Auctioneers

photo source: PCGS

Regular strike coins differ significantly from special strike coins, with most regular strike pieces being produced specifically for circulation. On the other hand, special strike coins are typically made for collectors and high-profile clients.

This difference means that special strike coins (like proof coins) are often kept in excellent condition, and their designs tend to feature virtually zero flaws (as compared to many mistake-ridden for-circulation coins).

The 1839-O Proof Capped Bust half dollar is an excellent example of how special strike coins can outclass regular strike ones.

Although this fifty-cent piece (produced at the New Orleans Mint) shows signs of aging, it’s one of only a few similar specimens that’s earned a PR-65 grade. This comparatively stellar condition helped one of these coins sell for $373,750 in 2008.

No other 1839 Capped Bust half dollar has sold for such a high price, and it’s not too challenging to understand why. Only a dozen of these proof-condition half dollars are around today, so this piece is exceptionally rare.

8. 1853-O Liberty Seated Half Dollar (No Arrows) – $517,000

Grade: PCGS VF-35

Auction House: Stack’s Bowers

photo source: PCGS

In 1853, the silver coins produced by the U.S. Mint underwent a few changes. Due to the Coinage Act of 1853, the percentage of silver used to create coins was decreased, resulting in pieces with a slightly diminished inherent value.

The dies used to produce these coins were slightly altered to signify this change, with small arrows being added on either side of the coin’s strike year (pointing away from the date). But not all high-silver-content coins struck in 1853 ended up featuring these arrows, likely due to internal confusion or delayed adoption of the new minting process.

You can see this design discrepancy by looking at the 1853-O Liberty Seated half dollar (without arrows). This coin is one of only four, and it represents the transition to a lower silver percentage.

Although it doesn’t contain quite as much silver as the previous year’s half dollars, it’s more silver-rich than other (with arrows) half dollars struck in 1853. When one of these unique fifty-cent pieces went to auction in 2017, it sold for $517,000.

Considering how rare and historically significant the coin is, it will likely sell for a much higher price in the future!

7. 1795 O-126a Small Head Half Dollar – $528,000

Grade: PCGS MS-63

Auction House: Heritage Auctions

photo source: PCGS

It’s no secret; coin designs change over time, becoming iconic representations of specific eras and periods of history. Half dollars aren’t immune to these changes, and they’ve experienced about as many design alterations as other U.S. coins (quarters, pennies, dimes).

But the first and shortest-lived half dollar design was the Flowing Hair coinage. Only half dollars struck in 1794 and 1795 (the first two years of the coin’s existence in the United States) feature this design.

Interestingly, some have earned a different name; Small Head half dollar.

These early American fifty-cent pieces featured the same figure found on Flower Hair half dollars, but the head was slightly smaller. Notably, each Small Head half dollar looks slightly different from the others, making each specimen unique.

Still, the most valuable of these is the 1795 O-126a Small Head half dollar, so named for the specific die used to strike it. This coin sold for $528,000 when it went to auction in November 2020.

Half a million dollars might seem like a lot to spend on a coin that was originally only worth $0.50, but the Small Head half dollar’s auction price pales in comparison to that of its more standardized Flower Hair counterpart.

6. 1795 O-117 Flowing Hair Half Dollar – $552,000

Grade: PCGS MS-65+ CAC

Auction House: Heritage Auctions

photo source: PCGS

While an “O” letter in a coin’s title often indicates that it was struck at the New Orlean Mint, this isn’t always the case. Take the 1795 O-117 Flowing Hair half dollar, for example.

The “O” in this coin’s title relates to the die used to produce the coin. The same is true of the “O” in the 1795 O-126a Small Head half dollar. These indicators (O-117, O-126a) are called Overton numbers.

Some early half dollars have rare Overton numbers that make them spectacularly valuable. The 1795 O-117 Flowing Hair half dollar is no exception.

This antique fifty-cent piece was created using two dies, one from 1795 (O-117) and one from 1794 (O-102). All told, only about 300,000 of these Flowing Hair pieces were struck, as the U.S. Mint adopted a new design (the Draped Bust) in 1796.

The highest-quality, best condition O-117 Flowing Hair half dollar is an MS-65+ CAC (essentially perfect) specimen that sold for $552,000 in 2021. This coin might be more than 200 years old, but it looks like it was minted yesterday!

However, there’s another Flowing Hair half dollar that puts this coin’s high auction price to shame. Still, we’ll touch on that particular piece in just a minute.

5. 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar (15 Stars, O-101) – $587,500

Grade: PCGS SP-63

Auction House: Stack’s Bowers

photo source: PCGS

One of the most notable qualities of U.S. half dollars is their high silver content, with the bulk of all half dollars produced between 1796 and 2002 being 90% silver. But not all half dollars look silver, as this metal can tarnish and appear bronze or copper over time.

The 1796 Draped Bust half dollar (15 Stars) that sold for $587,500 in 2015 clearly demonstrates this change in coloration. But its copper hue didn’t stop buyers from clamoring over the opportunity to own this historically-significant coin.

After all, it’s the only 1796 Draped Bust half dollar of this design type with a PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) certification.

4. 1838-O Proof Capped Bust Half Dollar – $763,750

Grade: NGC PR-64 CAC

Auction House: Heritage Auctions

photo source: PCGS

Because the New Orleans Mint shut its doors in 1909, any coin featuring an “O” marking is a rare treasure. Still, when it comes to fifty-cent pieces, the most valuable specimen struck at the New Orleans Mint is the 1838-O Proof Capped Bust half dollar.

The New Orleans Mint also shut down for a few months in 1838 due to the annual epidemic of yellow fever. Operations were quite slow when the facility reopened.

According to the New Orleans Mint’s records, there was no opportunity to strike half dollars in 1838, but nine 1838-O Half Dollars can actually be traced today.

Like the 1839-O coin discussed earlier, this is a special strike coin (a proof coin, to be more precise). As such, its design is far clearer and more accurate, as it was specifically struck for collection instead of circulation.

When this coin went to auction in 2014, it sold for $737,750, making it the most valuable Capped Bust half dollar of all time.

3. 1794 Flowing Hair Half Dollar – $870,000

Grade: PCGS MS-64+ CAC

Auction House: Heritage Auctions

photo source: PCGS

The Coinage Act of 1792 was a crucial moment in United States history. It laid the groundwork for the young country to produce its own currency. Before Congress passed this act, early Americans used foreign currency or physical goods as payment.

But it wouldn’t be until 1793 that the Philadelphia Mint began striking U.S. coins. This first production year was notably limited to only half-cents and cents.

It wouldn’t be until the following year, 1794, that the U.S. Mint would produce its longest-lasting coinage, including dimes, nickels, quarters, and half dollars. Many of the pieces struck in 1794 are historically significant artifacts that are worth a small fortune today, regardless of their original denomination.

This includes the 1794 Flowing Hair half dollar, the first U.S. half dollar ever produced. One of these coins sold for $870,000 in January 2021, making it the most valuable 1794 Flowing Hair half dollar in the world.

And while historical significance and rarity certainly played a role in this piece’s incredible auction price, condition was also a significant factor.

2. 1797 Draped Bust Half Dollar – $1.68 Million

Grade: PCGS MS-66 CAC

Auction House: Stack’s Bowers

photo source: PCGS

Any coin that earns a CAC sticker is a numismatist’s dream come true. That’s because gold and green CAC stickers are exceptionally challenging to earn. When a coin is given one of these stickers, it indicates superior quality and condition, essentially designating the coin as perfect.

In 2015, an MS-66 CAC graded 1797 Draped Bust half dollar sold for $1.527 million at auction. But six years later, in 2021, that same coin sold for a more sizeable $1.68 million.

The primary reason why this copper-hued coin sold for such a staggering price is its condition, although rarity is also a crucial factor. Apart from the Norweb-Koshkarian 1797 Draped Bust half dollar, there’s no finer example of this specimen.

1. 1796 Draped Bust Half Dollar (16 Stars, O-102) – $1.8 Million

Grade: PCGS MS-66

Auction House: Heritage Auctions

photo source: PCGS

The most expensive half dollar is the 1796 Draped Bust half dollar (16 Stars). This coin, created using the O-102 die, sold for $1.8 million when it went to auction in January 2023. In May 2015, it sold at auction for a much less impressive $822,500.

So, how did this Draped Bust half dollar manage to double its value in such a short time?

The answer comes down to three significant and influential factors:

  • Scarcity
  • Historical Significance
  • Condition

1796 was the first year the U.S. Mint produced Draped Bust half dollars, so fifty-cent pieces struck during this year are particularly valuable due to their immense historical significance.

But the specimen that sold for almost $2 million in 2023 is the highest-quality, best-condition of all 1796 Draped Bust half dollars (with 16 stars on the obverse side).

Still, rarity also makes this fifty-cent piece a treasure for coin collectors. Fewer than 4,000 half dollars were struck in 1796, and most were created using the O-101 die (which featured 15 stars). So this particular 16-Star specimen is quite an unlikely find!

What’s the Most Expensive Half Dollar?

What’s the most expensive half dollar in the world? When discussing U.S. half dollars, the answer is the 1796 Draped Bust half dollar (16 Stars).

This fifty-cent piece was struck only 20 years after the United States of America was founded, and it’s in better condition than any other 16-Stars 1796 Draped Bust half dollar existing today (there aren’t many). In January 2023, this coin sold for a whopping $1.8 million, shattering its previous sales record of $822,500.

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