1797 Liberty Cap Right Half Cent, Gripped Edge

Of all the coins appearing on the Key Date List of recommendations, the 1797 Liberty Cap Right half cent with Gripped Edge may be the most unusual – and mysterious – one.

The “gripping” appears as vertical indentations, located along the edge of the coin. The marks somewhat resemble reeding but are randomly spaced and too far apart to be considered reeding.

Although we today are sure the gripping was applied purposely at the Mint, no one can say definitively how or why the marks came to be.(1)

There are a couple of theories. One suggests the marking occurred incidentally from an operation to stamp out blanks, with no intent to imprint a design on the edge.

Another possibility is the Mint was experimenting with a new collar design that formed the gripping marks simultaneous with striking of the obverse and reverse dies. If true, it seems unlikely this was done to generate some type of decorative edge. Reeding or lettering was applied to silver and gold coins to thwart edge shavers, but not copper coins because their metal was of such low value it was not worth the bother to shave.(2)

The 1797 Gripped Edge half cent variety was publicly acknowledged for the first time by S. K. Harzfeld in a January 1881 auction.(3)

This may be a coin with an enigmatic origin, but here is something we can speak of with some degree of confidence: whichever process the Mint employed that caused the gripped edge, it was utilized in a very limited fashion. The survival numbers bear this out. Of the 127,840 half cents reportedly struck in 1797, only about 13 are known today of the gripped edge variety,(4) suggesting their numbers were exceedingly small to start with.(5)

Due to its extreme scarceness and near uncollectible status, we almost didn’t include the 1797 Gripped Edge half cent on the Key Date List for the same reason the 1913 Liberty nickel is omitted from there.

On the other hand, this important rarity doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves, despite its spectacular value trend record. Also, how many opportunities do we get to blow a horn for the lowly half cent?

The 1797 Gripped Edge half cent ranks as one of the most elusive varieties of not just the half cent denomination, but of all early United States coinage, so break out the trumpet!

Estimated survivors in all grades: 13
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Learn more at PCGS.
PCGS Rarity Scale: 9.4
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
Learn more at PCGS.
Click HERE to check for availability on eBay**

Preview of eBay selection (this half cent comes up for sale less often than a Blue Moon):

Extremely rare 1797 Liberty Capr Right half cent with Gripped Edge
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Last updated 1-10-24
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1. Stack's Bowers Galleries. 1797 Liberty Cap Half Cent. Gripped Edge. Mar 2020 Auction.

2. Stack's Bowers Galleries. 1797 Liberty Cap Half Cent. Gripped Edge. Mar 2012 Auction.

3. Stack's Bowers Galleries. 1797 Liberty Cap Half Cent. Gripped Edge. Feb 2019 Auction.

4. PCGS.  1797 1/2C Gripped Edge, BN (Regular Strike).

5. Stack's Bowers Galleries. 1797 Liberty Cap Half Cent. Gripped Edge. Mar 2012 Auction.

**Many very fine coin dealers sell on eBay. At any point in time, there may be over one million search results for United States coins. This includes quite a few of the recommendations on our Key Date Coin List.

If you’re thinking about purchasing a rare coin, eBay is certainly worth a look. For your convenience, the links from this site to eBay are coded to bring up only coins certified by PCGS and NGC.

As is always, always the case, never buy a valuable coin from a seller whose trustworthiness cannot be verified. Learn more about this at our chapter Best Places to Buy Coins, which also has a section on doing business on eBay.

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Coin images by Stack's Bowers Galleries and USA Coin Book.