Volume 70 No. 1 January, 2024

Speaker’s Wor[l]d
United States Flowing Hair Half Dollars

by Raymond J. Dagenais, Ed.D.,
presented to our December 13, 2023 meeting

The Mint Act of 1792 established the facility of the Philadelphia Mint and five personnel positions. These positions included the following officers and employees: a director, an assayer, a chief coiner, an engraver, and a treasurer. While the Mint Act of 1792 provided for the minting of half dollars, none would be struck until late 1794. It was the intention that silver dollars would be minted before half dollars. But before the striking of gold, silver dollars and half dollars could begin, both the assayer (Albion Cox) and the chief coiner (Henry Voigt) were required to post bonds of $10,000 each before handling precious metals.

This amount of money was beyond the ability of these men to provide, so the minting of these coins did not begin until 1794. Thomas Jefferson wrote President Washington on December 30, 1793, and Congress passed a special act that reduced the bond for Voigt to $5,000 and $1,000 for Cox. Even then, it was after Director David Rittenhouse supplied the bond for Voigt and Charles Gilchrist supplied the bond for Cox that minting of these coins could begin with the production of silver dollars. The silver dollar production was short lived, as the press for the dollar-size coins broke down. It was decided that half dollars would be minted until an adequate dollar press was repaired.

The minting of Flowing Hair Half Dollars involved many individuals and several steps in the process. First, die body blanks had to be cut by the coining department (COD) to be used to create the master die (MD) which was lapped and annealed and sent to the engraving department (EGD). There, the central design – portrait or eagle only – was engraved into the master die. The MD was sent back to the COD where it was hardened and tempered for use in striking the master hub (MH). Blank die bodies were cut, lapped, and annealed to be used in creating the MH. The EGD used the MD to raise the MH and complete the engraving of remaining details. The COD then hardened and tempered the MH for use in striking the working die (WD). Blank die bodies for the WDs were cut, lapped, and annealed and sent to the EGD where the WD was struck using the MH. Stars, numerals, letters, and dentils were punched into the WD by hand. The WD was sent to the COD where it was hardened, tempered, and polished for use in striking Flowing Hair Half Dollars.

In summary, each half dollar die was produced by hand. The main device was engraved on the obverse or reverse master die (MD) first. The master die was used to create the master hub (MH). The MH was used to produce the working die (WD). Only then were the remaining elements punched into the WD. Many dies were included at each step in the process. The result of this process was the creation and use of multiple dies and hubs, with no two exactly the same. The known number of die marriages (a given obverse die paired with a given reverse die) for 1794 dated half dollars is 11, while the known number of die marriages for 1795 dated half dollars is 32.

Some coins exhibit more-or-less parallel lines on its surface. These lines are not post-mint scratches; they are adjustment marks. In an effort to keep overweight planchet weights close to established values, over-weight planchets were manually filed down. Individual planchets would have different adjustment mark placements and patterns, making such coins different and scarcer than others of that die marriage.

The obverse of the Flowing Hair Half Dollar has, as its main device, a portrait of “Liberty” facing right, with her hair engraved as if being blown back by the wind. The date is located in an arc below the portrait. Fifteen stars, representing the number of states in the union at the time, surround the border of the coin with a gap at the bottom for the date and a gap at the top where the word “Liberty” is positioned. Small ornamental nubs called dentils are evenly spaced circling the coin between the stars and the coin’s edge. The reverse of the coin displays a centrally positioned eagle standing on a rock, with a wreath arranged in a circular arc surrounding the eagle. The words “United States of America” are located in a circular arc between the wreath and the dentils.

Several dies and hubs were available for use at any one time. Officials did not wait for a die to fail before designing and creating new dies and hubs. The reasons for using different dies and hubs varied. As a result, at the start of a new day a mint employee might pair a different reverse die for use with a previously used obverse die, creating a new die marriage. Eventually, working dies failed and had to be replaced. As the press continued to use a failing die, the produced coins began to display die cracks which became more severe as more coins were struck. A die crack typically evolved from a single weak crack to the heavy cracking found on the last few coins before the die failed.

The varying thickness of the planchets resulted in coins that had strike irregularities – flat regions on the coin’s surface that can be confused with light wear. If the planchet was thin in a region, the striking pressure was not sufficient enough to imprint the working die design to the coin in that region. Conservative grading sometimes lowers the grade of these coins, attributing these regions to wear rather than striking problems.

The Rarity Rating for each die marriage, shown in articles or the references, are estimated survival numbers based upon previous appearances in auctions and the combined expertise, experience, and years of diligent searching by many collectors. In addition to estimates of the number of coins that have survived to the present time, the ranges might be broken down into “+” and “-“ categories that represent numbers at the lower and higher ends, respectively, of the given range.

Flowing Hair Half Dollars are not “Common” by today’s standards. Their rarity is predominantly determined by their production mintage and that in turn by their survival rates. Looking at the 1790 and 1800 U.S. Census numbers, a calculation suggests that there were about 600,000 U.S. residents in the United States in 1795. Using a production figure of 23,464 for this population translates into four (1794) coins per 100 people (one 1794 half dollar for every 25 persons). The average daily wage for a common laborer was 95 cents per day. Farm workers were paid more often in room and board and commodities (trade goods). Very few people ever even saw a Flowing Hair Half Dollar, and if they did they used it in commerce.

There are two different portraits of Liberty used on Flowing Hair Liberty Half Dollars. They were produced from two different master dies and their subsequent hubs. The main difference in the two designs can be seen at the necklines of the two portraits. The sharp-edged neckline is referred to as the “Large Head” (LH) design and the neckline with the steplike edge is called the “Small Head” (SH) design. Earlier theories attributed the SH design to Assistant Engraver John Smith Gardner, but current research of documents of the era have established that the SH design was more likely the work of Chief Engraver Robert Scot. Documentation, outlining the time that Gardner was hired and the time when the SH design was put into use, shows insufficient time for Gardner to have created the SH Master dies. It has been postulated that Scot used the Flowing Hair design then current on the large cent, without the liberty cap and pole, but with the five main curl sets designed by Joseph Wright, the Mint’s first Chief Engraver, who died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793.

The Mint of the day was a machine shop/factory, not immune to mishaps. One time, an employee charged with the task of punching details into a working reverse die apparently picked up an “E” punch and hammered it into the spot where an “A” should have been located. Realizing the mistake, the “A” was punched over the ”E” and the die was put into use, creating a set of “A” over ”E” coins.

One has to wonder if the employee who created the “A” over “E” variety made a similar mistake on the “S” over “D” variety. Close inspection shows the upper serif of the “D” behind the north west corner of the “S” and the curve of the “D” just east of the “S.”

As mentioned earlier, Working Dies were prepared by punching in the remaining details, including the stars surrounding the portrait of Liberty. As a result of punching in these details by hand, the stars are not in the same positions, with respect to the portrait, from one die to another. This is shown by an examination coins of the three varieties of the SH dies, all from 1795. Star 1 has its inner point under and to the right of the lowest curl on variety O-126. Star 1 has its inner point radially under and not touching the lowest curl on variety O-127. Star 1 has its inner point radially under and touching the lowest curl on variety O-128. (NOTE: Collectors number the obverse stars 1-15, going clockwise, starting with the star to the left of the date.) The locations of these stars and other element positions are used to identify a coin as a given die marriage of a Flowing Hair Half Dollar.

One of 1795 the obverse dies has the date repunched; it was used with two different reverse dies, so there are two varities with a repunched date. The repunched numerals are seen above the original “1795.” Apparently the original position of the numerals was too close to the bottom edge of the die, so they were repunched to a higher position, away from the edge of the die. This repunched obverse die was paired with two reverse dies using different numbers of wreath leaves. One reverse die was engraved with three leaves on each side of the wreath below the eagle, while the other reverse die was engraved with two leaves on each side of the wreath below the eagle.

The mistakes made at the mint were not always as serious as punching in the wrong numeral or letter. Occasionally, an engraving tool might slip and cut the working die farther than intended, or an object may have fallen onto the face of the die as it sat on a table.

Small defects may not have been noticed or were considered not important enough to lap off the die. Such die defects appear as raised regular or irregular lines on coins that were produced by that die. Such is the case with the raised line running along the right side of the “Y” in Liberty on the obverse of O-117.

Post-mint damage inflicted on a coin is particular to individual coins, not sets of coins produced by variety dies. The O-127a in its unaltered state has a large die crack running from the rim to the bridge of Liberty’s nose and a smaller crack running from the right side of the “5” in the date to Star 7. This coin is very rare with survival estimates in the range of 25-30 pieces known. Someone must have thought that the cracks made the coin look less attractive than an unblemished coin and attempted to smooth out the cracks, leaving these regions more unattractive than they were before the smoothing attempts. Even though the coin exhibits post-mint damage, it still is a representative example, and now is available at a much lower price than an unaltered specimen commands.

The newest Flowing Hair Half Dollar marriage is the O-133. O-133 coins had long been attributed as O-122 because of the slight differences in the obverses of these two varieties. The reverse of the O-133 is from the same die as used for the O-122, but the obverses of the coins are from different dies – similar dies with small differences. One of the more obvious differences is that the “T” in LIBERTY is tilted a bit counter-clockwise on the O-133 compared to the “T” on the O-122 coin.

Early accounts of the 1795 Flowing Hair Half Dollar varieties listed 32 die marriages. Though variety O-118 had been listed, no specimen had ever been seen, and it was suspected that it was a mistaken identification of another variety. That means the number of known 1795 die marriages was reduced to 31. In 2020 a diligent researcher identified a new die marriage (listed as O-133), raising the list of currently known number of 1795 die marriages back up to 32.


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Richard Cabeen Award for Monthy Exhibiting Excellence

as reported in the February 17, 2021 Board Meeting Minutes.

The “Show and Tell” portion of Chicago Coin Club meetings has long been a monthly fixture of the organization, and was formalized into a good-natured annual competition in the 1980s. Richard Cabeen, long-time club member and hobbies columnist for the Chicago Tribune, donated the funds in memoriam for an Annual Award for Excellence in Exhibiting – specifically the qualities of visual appeal and a succinct, well-executed explanation of the item(s) being shown. Awards for presenters are given at the December Awards Meeting and/or Banquet.

Ballots are distributed to all attending members in good standing on the evening of the meeting by the Seconnd Vice President, and presenters are to be graded on a scale of 1-10; a “10” being the technical highest score possible for an exhibitor. All votes are tabulated by the Seconnd Vice President afterwards, and an overall average score is tabulated each month throughout the year. Traditionally, there are no exhibits at the November meeting (Club Auction) nor in December (Awards and/or Banquet). In an effort to encourage participation and a balanced range of presenters, scoring has been “weighted” in recent years for an extra percentage point to be added to presenters who participate in at least six meetings during the calendar year. An additional point is added for the seventh month, and so on.

First and Second Place medals are awarded at the December meeting and, based on a competitive point range within 1 percentage point during the year, two-to-three additional Honorable Mentions are typically recognized.

Our 1260th Meeting

Date: January 10, 2024
Time: 6:45PM CST (UTC-06:00)
Location: Downtown Chicago
At the Chicago Bar Association, 321 S. Plymouth Court, 3rd or 4th floor meeting room. Please remember the security measures at our meeting building: everyone must be prepared to show their photo-ID and register at the guard’s desk.
Because things can change between when this is written and we meet, please bring your face covering to the meeting – all attendees must follow the city’s and building’s rules.
This will be another attempt at a regular in-person meeting in the post-Covid-19 era. We will try for a better experience than in the past, but please be prepared for possible diifficulties.
Online: For all the details on participating online in one of our club meetings, visit our Online Meeting webpage at Participation in an online meeting requires some advance work by both our meeting coordinator and attendees, especially first-time participants. Please plan ahead; read the latest instructions on the day before the meeting!
Featured Program: Dale LukanichOle’s Dream: The 1925 Norse Medal
On July 4 or 5, 1825, the vessel Restauration sailed from Stavanger, Norway, for the United States, with 45 migrants aboard. Ole Juulson Kvale was a Minnesota congressman of the Farmer-Labor Party, and a proud Norse-American. Kvale was a member of the Norse-American Centennial Commission, which was to organize a 100th anniversary celebration of the Restauration’s voyage. Mr. Kvale’s dream was to make a medal that could last long after the celebration was over in 1925. These beautiful medals that were struck by the US mint are often collected with the US commemorative coins. Because they are not coins, they are not listed in the Red Book. This talk is intended to shed some light on a beautiful piece of American art.

Important Dates

Unless stated otherwise, our regular monthly CCC Meeting is in downtown Chicago and also online on the second Wednesday of the month; the starting time is 6:45PM CT.

January 3 Meeting of the 2024 WFoM Local Host Committee – 7pm CST start – online only. Email Host Chair Dale Lukanich at for details on joining this committee or meeting.
January 10 CCC Meeting - Featured Speaker - Dale Lukanich on Ole’s Dream: The 1925 Norse Medal
February 14 CCC Meeting - Featured Speaker - Mark Wieclaw on The American Arts Medallion Program (1980-1984), Success or Failure
February 25 Will County Coin Club Show, to be held at the Weitendorf Ag Ed Center (Joliet Junior College), 17840 Laraway Road in Joliet, Illinois; 9:00am to 3:30pm.
March 13 CCC Meeting - Featured Speaker - Shanna Schmidt on to be announced
March 14-16 ANA’s National Money Show at the Broadmoor Resort, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Details at
April 10 CCC Meeting - Featured Speaker - to be announced

Chatter Matter

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Club Officers

Elected positions:
John Riley- President
Melissa Gumm- First V.P.
Deven Kane- Second V.P.
William Burd- Archivist
Directors:Ray Dagenais
Mark Wieclaw
Carl Wolf
Steve Zitowsky
Appointed positions:
Richard Lipman- Immediate Past President
Scott McGowan- Secretary
Elliott Krieter- Treasurer
Paul Hybert- Chatter Editor, webmaster
Jeffrey Rosinia- ANA Club Representative


All correspondence pertaining to Club matters should be addressed to the Secretary and mailed to:
P.O. Box 2301

Or email the Secretary at
Payments to the Club, including membership dues, can be addressed to the Treasurer at the above street address.


Renewing Members Annual dues are $20 a year ($10 for Junior, under 18). Annual Membership expires December 31 of the year through which paid. Cash, check, or money order are acceptable (USD only please). We do not accept PayPal. Email your questions to Members can pay the Club electronically with Zelle™ using their Android or Apple smart phone. JP Morgan Chase customers can send payments to the Club via Quick Pay. To see if your Bank or Credit Union is part of the Zelle™ Payments Network, go to Please read all rules and requirements carefully.

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