The Classic Head Half Cent was issued for a longer duration than the previous designs for the denomination, although several gaps in production reduce the scope of the series. The new half cent design was introduced in 1809, after being released on the large cent the year earlier. From 1812 to 1824 and again in 1827 and 1830 no half cents were struck for circulation. It is believed that 1831 saw a very limited number of coins struck for circulation, but the debate continues as to whether all pieces produced were proofs. The final circulation strikes for the series were issued in 1835, followed by the rare 1836 proof only issue.
The design was created by John Reich, who had been in contact with the Mint since 1801 and was recommended by President Jefferson. However, it would not be until half a decade later in 1807 when he joined the Mint. Once there, he worked together with the aging Robert Scot, who had designed many of the earliest coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint. John Reich would stay at the Mint for ten years as an engraver.
The obverse design featured a stylistic head of Liberty facing left. Her hair is rolling downwards in curls, with a hair band inscribed LIBERTY. Thirteen stars surround the image, with seven to the left and six to the right of the portrait. The date is below, slightly curved, but not as much as on the previous type. The obverse design was modified by William Kneass starting with the 1831 issue. He was a new Mint engraver who had joined the Mint in early 1824 following the death of Robert Scot.
The reverse design introduced for the series in 1809 featured a wreath of laurel leaves and berries. It was based on the previous designs used for the half cent, but noticeably different on multiple accounts. The wreath was fully closed, whereas the previous types had the wreath open on top. The denomination, spelled as HALF CENT was placed inside the wreath, with a horizontal line under CENT. Like most of the devices, this horizontal line is impressed heavily on the earliest issues, but weakened later in the series. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the wreath.
The differences between the pre and post 1831 Classic Head Half Cents are minimal, and usually not considered significant enough to be a special subtype. However, when viewed side by side, the differences are obvious, especially on the obverse. When the half cent punches were taken from storage in 1831, Chief Engraver Kneass noted the star and letter punches were in bad shape from years of irregular use and storage. With the introduction of several improvements in the working process that year, Kneass decided to make new punches, using the old punches as a guide. The new versions were smaller, and more carefully executed. This is especially noted on the obverse, with smaller stars and a smaller date. The reverse lettering is smaller as well, but the difference is minimal. These punches would be used until the end of the series in 1836.