Proof Classic Head Half Cents

With the introduction of more precise coinage equipment in the 1830’s, the Mint finally was able to produce high-quality coins in relatively large numbers. It was also in this decade that the Mint commenced with the production of proof coinage, albeit in limited numbers. Some of the Classic Head Half Cents are thus known in proof format, with the 1836 half cent being a proof only date and a great rarity.

The 1831 Classic Head Half Cent issue is a mystery, and its status has often been disputed. Some numismatic researchers believe that this date is a proof-only date, with a total mintage of 2,200 pieces. This would have been an unusually high number of proof coins at this point in the Mint’s history. One possible justification might have been the introduction of new coining equipment, but it still seems unlikely that such a large number of proof half cents would be produced. It is perhaps more likely that a very limited number of circulation strikes were minted, and that the majority of these were never released, and later melted.

It must be noted that although every date from 1831 to 1836 is known in proof format, there remains some confusion regarding originals and restrikes. The restrikes for both 1831 and 1836 are identified by two different reverse dies, the original and the reverse of 1840-1857. The number of restrikes indicates that proof half cents were certainly wanted by coin collectors, but mostly after the mintage of this denomination had been discontinued in 1857.

Restrikes are said to have been produced around 1858 to 1861, when coin collecting was becoming more popular in the United States. The coins dated 1831 and 1836 had already become recognized as rarities and were restruck most often, explaining the two different varieties.