In recent years, the half dollar has all but disappeared from the channels of American commerce, becoming almost irrelevant to the nation’s coinage system. That’s a far cry from the role it played in America’s formative years, when it had a significant function and carried exceptional weight. Its importance was underscored by the fact that in 1794, when United States silver coinage began, the half dollar was one of the first three denominations to be issued in that metal, along with the silver dollar and half dime.
Coinage in general was slow to get under way at the nation’s first mint in Philadelphia. Congress passed the law authorizing the U.S. Mint and spelling out coin denominations and specifications on April 2, 1792—but the first copper coins didn’t go into production until 1793, and more than two full years went by before the first silver coins emerged.
Part of the delay resulted from complications inherent in settin.... (Expand Text)