1857 marks the passing of the Coinage Act. Prior to the passing of the act, foreign currency such as the Spanish dollar was accepted as legal tender within the United States. Perhaps this 1857 half dime was given as payment for turning in foreign currency to the Mint, or even composed of silver obtained from melting a Spanish dollar.
The effects of the California Gold Rush on the United States' circulating silver coinage were immediate and quite severe. As the price of silver reckoned in gold rose sharply on the world market, coins such as the Seated Half Dime were soon worth more as bullion than as a circulating medium of exchange. Bullion dealers and other speculators were quick to capitalize on this situation, hoarding and exporting newly minted silver coins at a profit for themselves but a loss to the federal government. By 1853, the situation had become so acute that Congress was forced to lower the weight of most silver coins to discourage hoarding and keep the pieces in circulation. The Mint Act of February 21, 1853 was the vehicle of Congress' intervention, and it reduced the weight of the Half Dime from 1.34 grams to 1.24 grams. In order to distinguish coins struck to this new standard from their old tenor counterparts, the Mint added arrows to the obverse field before and after the date. Three years were deemed sufficient to familiarize the public with the new weight standard, and the arrows were duly dropped in 1856.
Today, survivors of the short-lived Seated Half Dime with Arrows series are eagerly sought by type collectors at all levels of preservation. Both the Philadelphia and New Orleans Mints were active in the production of this type each year from 1853-1855.