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HomeUS Coins1839-C Liberty Head Half Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1839-C Liberty Head Half Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1839-C Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: Goldberg's / CoinWeek.
1839-C Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: Goldberg’s / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan, Hubert Walker, and Russell Augustin for CoinWeek Notes …..
In 1839, a new design for the half eagle $5 gold coin was released. United States Mint engraver Christian Gobrecht’s Liberty Head design replaced the William Kneass Classic Head type of 1834-1838. Chief Engraver Kneass had suffered a stroke from which he wouldn’t recover, and Gobrecht had to take over. As a result, several coin designs changed.

Gobrecht’s bust of Liberty was slimmer and more upright. A pointed diadem rests on her head, and she wears her hair up. Gobrecht retained much of Kneass’ design language, however. Thirteen stars and the date encircle the design on the obverse, and the Heraldic Eagle and inscriptions on the reverse are similar. The eagle by Gobrecht stands more upright and has smaller talons. One might argue that the new eagle was not an improvement.

The Liberty Head design would be easily recognizable to generations of Americans from gold coins until 1908, when it was replaced on the Saint-Gaudens Eagle and Double Eagle and Bela Lyon Pratt’s Indian Head Quarter Eagle and Half Eagle designs.

The 1839-C Liberty Head Half Eagle was the Charlotte Mint’s second $5 gold coin issue and fourth overall. Congress established mint branches in Charlotte and Dahlonega, Georgia, to process and coin locally sourced gold. These mints supplanted the successful private mint operated by the Bechtler family but opened as yields from the mines had started to wane.

Charlotte’s total gold coinage output for 1839 was a mere 35,345 pieces: 18,140 1839-C Classic Head Quarter Eagles and 17,205 1839-C Liberty Head Half Eagles. By comparison, the Philadelphia Mint produced 27,021 quarter eagles and 118,143 half eagles that year, and the Dahlonega Mint produced a meager 32,613 coins.

One die pair, shipped to Charlotte from the Philadelphia Mint on May 3, was used to strike the entire mintage of 1839-C Liberty Head Half Eagles. Coinage commenced on June 17.

The 1839-C is a popularly collected branch mint issue, not only as a first-year type but also because the 1839-C and 1839-D Liberty Head Half Eagles are the only $5 gold coins of the type with a mintmark on the obverse. The mintmark would go on the reverse for the 1840 issues.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top PopulationPCGS MS64 (2, 5/2024), NGC MS63 (2, 5/2024), and CAC AU55 (2:0 stickered:graded, 5/2024).

  • PCGS MS64 #32916360: Dorothy Gershenson; Superior Galleries, September 22, 1998, Lot 2033A. The coin was described as a possible specimen strike. As PCGS MS64 4533516. “The Ohringer Family Trust Collection,” Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers, September 16, 2008, Lot 1259 – 172,500. As PCGS MS64 #32916360. “The D. Brent Pogue Family Collection, Part IV,” Stack’s Bowers / Sotheby’s, May 24, 2016, Lot 4061 – $111,625. Pogue novelty insert. PCGS CoinFacts lowered the coin’s price in this grade from $175,000 to $135,000 after this sale; Stack’s Bowers, August 25, 2022, Lot 716 – $336,000; D.L. Hansen. Presently in the D.L. Hansen $5 Gold / Major Varieties (1839-1908) PCGS Registry Set. Pop 2/0 when offered. PCGS CoinFacts increased the coin’s price in this grade from $175,000 to $350,000 after this sale. An extraordinary strike and fully Prooflike surfaces and flat rims with a partial fin. This coin is unmistakable when compared to the other Choice Mint State survivors. Russ Augustin believes he saw this coin in an NGC Specimen-64 holder (1996-97), but it was recalled by NGC.
  • PCGS MS63 #05488848: Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2018, Lot 5034 – $48,000. A minor contact mark is on the left of Liberty’s neck and just above the bust line; near-horizontal ticks above the E in FIVE and below the left (facing) claw.
  • NGC MS63 #3183495-001: Dennis Daray, Southern Coins & Precious Metals. As NGC MS62 #1633877-020: “The Ashland City Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 11, 2003, Lot 4728 – $24,150. ASHLAND CITY on insert. Pop 4/0 when offered. As NGC MS63 #1846102-002. “The Ohringer Family Trust Collection,” Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers, May 27, 2008, Lot 4422 – $55,200. Upgraded by one point. As NGC MS63 #3183495-001. Heritage Auctions, September 19, 2008, Lot 3631 – $47,500 Reserve Not Met; Stack’s Bowers, March 31, 2016, Lot 13183 – $42,300. Identifying marks include one on Liberty’s cheek behind the lips, a horizontal line above Liberty’s hair in the field and under star 8, and another above the eagle’s head at right, below the first “T” in “STATES.”
  • NGC MS63 #596268-002: Heritage Auctions, March 25, 2005, Lot 6941 – $39,100. Pop 2/0 when offered; “The Cuyahoga Collection of Charlotte and Dahlonega Mint Gold,” Bowers & Merena, March 4, 2010, Lot 3739 – $126,500. Pop 3/0 when offered; “The Cherokee County Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2012, Lot 4874 – $48,875A vertical line extends from the right of the eagle’s neck into the reverse field. The plate coin for both the issue and die marriage on pages 122-123 of the 2008 edition of Doug Winter’s book on Charlotte mint gold.
  • NGC MS63: As PCGS AU58.”The William Miller Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 8, 1999, Lot 7778 – $21,850; As NGC MS63. “The Stanley Elrod Collection,” Heritage Auctions, February 12, 1999, Lot 6231 – $37,950. The coin was upgraded by four points! A noticeable contact mark is located at the left of star 3 on the obverse and at the right reverse field above the eagle’s wing. This coin has been called “…the second finest known.”
  • PCGS MS62 #05079489: Jim Gray; “The John Work Garrett Collection, Part I,” Bowers & Ruddy, November 29, 1979, Lot 480 – $16,000. As PCGS MS62 #05079489. Heritage Auctions, January 10, 2013, Lot 5875 – $41,125. Population: 2 in 62, 3 finer (11/12). (Mint made?) mark between Liberty’s hair and star 7. Near-vertical chatter extends from the cheek through the neckline and into the middle of the neck.
  • NGC MS62 #3424002-005: Heritage Auctions, January 6, 2011, Lot 5107 – $34,500. Three near-vertical deep reeded edge marks on the cheek below the eye.
  • NGC MS62: “The Allison Park Collection,” American Numismatic Rarities, August 15, 2004, Lot 1012 – $26,450. Coin image incorrect; “The Kennywood Collection,” American Numismatic Rarities, January 10, 2005, Lot 948 – $24,150; Stack’s, March 25, 2009, Lot 5882 – $25,300. Identifying marks include a vertical cut behind Liberty’s eye and a similar vertical mark on the cheek.
  • PCGS MS62 #21200609: Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2004, Lot 3018 – $26,450; Heritage Auctions, January 12, 2005, Lot 3018 – $25,300. Very light (grease?) mark joining tops of stars 1 and 3. A small vertical grease mark is in the field between the right wing and the back of the eagle’s neck. The certification number is no longer active.
  • NGC MS61 #3814841-008: “The Utah Collection of Charlotte Gold Coinage,” Heritage Auctions, July 13, 2021, Lot 3098 – $24,000. Cluster of marks on chin and cheek. Cluster of marks below star 6. Stars 1-5 flatly struck. Two ticks below the hair bun. Tick below star 7. Two diagonal scratches to the left of the ear. On the reverse, there is a planchet void under the first T of STATES and another to the left of O. Scratch in the field above the eagle’s left wing. Rim hit above the arrowtips. Rim ding at 11 o’clock.
  • NGC MS61 #2741839-019: “The Gotham City Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 26, 2018, Lot 4352 – $22,800. Scratch across cheek and a cluster of scratches on chin. Disturbance of the field to the left of 1. On the reverse, there is a rim hit above F and another mark above the eagle’s left wing.
  • NGC MS61 #581465-015: “The Donald E. Bently Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2014, Lot 5442 – $23,500. Copper and blue toning. Deep curved hit from the chin down the neck. Tick below Liberty’s hair bun. Two small scratches that meet at an angle to the left of Liberty’s neck. Tick in the left field between stars 4 and 5. On the reverse, there is a cluster of small gouges below the ST of STATES. Discolored streak from 7 o’clock on the rim to the arrow fletching.

Additional Notable Specimens

  • Smithsonian Specimen: estimated MS62 (impounded)
  • Louis Eliasberg Specimen: MS62 (October 1982)
  • Ed Milas/Paul Dingler Specimen: NGC MS61 (May 1995)
  • Harry Bass Specimen: MS61 (October 1999)
  • Donald H. Carter/Samuel O. Walton Specimen: NGC MS61 (January 1998; October 1963)
  • John Jay Pittman Specimen: NGC MS60 (October 1997)

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Design

Obverse:

Liberty faces to the left, her hair bundled at the back and secured with a beaded tie, but with two strands of hair cascading down the side and back of her neck. The word LIBERTY stretches across a coronet resting above her hairline. Thirteen six-pointed stars encircle just inside a denticulated rim, with the date centered at the bottom. The C mintmark is on the obverse, centered between the bust truncation and the date.

Reverse:

The reverse displays an eagle with outstretched wings and a shield over its breast. The eagle clutches an olive branch in its right claw and three arrows in its left. Interestingly, the fletching is visible for only two of the three arrows. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is broken into three parts by the eagle’s wing tips and follows along the inside of the periphery. The denomination is expressed as FIVE D. and is located at the bottom of the circle of text. An interpunct separates the denomination from the legend.

Edge:

The edge of the 1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle is reeded, a common anti-counterfeiting measure.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1839
Denomination: Half Eagle (Five Dollars USD)
Mintmark: C (Charlotte)
Mintage: 17,205
Alloy: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 8.36 g
Diameter: 22.50 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
Quality: Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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