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

1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan, Hubert Walker, and Russell Augustin for CoinWeek Notes …..

Christian Gobrecht’s Liberty Head design for the half eagle replaced the William Kneass Classic Head type of 1834-1838. Gobrecht’s Liberty bust is taller and slimmer. She wears her hair up, and a pointed diadem rests on her head. Gobrecht did not completely abandon 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, although Gobrecht’s eagle stands more upright and has smaller talons.

Gobrecht’s design was adopted across the range of U.S. gold coins, debuting on the $10 eagle denomination in 1838 and the $2.50 quarter eagle in 1839, and continued on until President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Pet Crime” led to the introduction of the Saint-Gaudens Eagle and Double Eagle types and Bela Lyon Pratt’s Indian Head Quarter Eagle and Half Eagle gold coins.

The Philadelphia Mint struck 118,143 1839 Liberty Head Half Eagles and nearly all circulated. A sufficient quantity of the date has survived that collectors can acquire examples in grades through XF for less than $1,500 USD. The issue is scarce in Mint State, with most examples certified by NGC and PCGS falling in the MS61 to MS62 range. Series collectors may find it interesting to note that CAC has stickered none of these coins.

Unknown in Gem, the finest known 1839 Liberty Head Half Eagles grade MS64. Between NGC and PCGS, 10 grading events have been reported. CAC has approved only two of them (both graded by NGC).

Raised dot on the neck of the 1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
Raised dot on the neck of the 1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

Eagle-eyed collectors will note that a raised dot is present on the neck of every known example of this date.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population: PCGS MS64 (3, 5/2024), NGC MS64 (7, 5/2024), and CAC MS64 (2:0 stickered:graded, 5/2024).

  • NGC MS64 CAC #291805-001: “The Edward Milas Collection,” Stack’s, May 2, 1995, Lot 431 – $35,200; Blanchard & Company; John Hill, Blanchard & Company to the New Orleans Collection; “The New Orleans Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2015, Lot 4328 – $54,050. A Series of three minor horizontal contact marks above Liberty in the field. A small tic above the eyebrow on the forehead. There is a small contact mark on the neck baseline above “1” in date. A contact mark to the left of “A” in “AMERICA” and a double contact mark above “E” in the field, centrally located between the legend and branch. A series of contact marks on the reverse edge to the right of “RI” in “AMERICA.”
  • NGC MS64 CAC #1802808-006: “The Larry H. Miller Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, December 17, 2020, Lot 1127 – $55,200. Diagonal contact mark directly in front of the chin. Ner horizontal contact mark at reeding between stars 5 and 6. Spot above first “T” in “STATES” and small contact mark above “E” in same.
  • PCGS MS64 #32916359: James A. Stack, Sr.; “The James A. Stack, Sr. Collection,” Stack’s, October 1994, Lot 1085. As PCGS MS64 #4832080. “The Alpine Zephyr Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 14, 2006, Lot 5498 – $80,500. Top pop, pop one when offered. D. Brent Pogue Family Collection. As PCGS MS64 #32916359. “The D. Brent Pogue Family Collection, Part IV,” May 24, 2016, Lot 4060 – $47,000. Pogue novelty insert. Light chafe on the edge of the neckline and behind the eye—discoloration between stars 3 and 4 in the field. There is a nearly vertical contact mark at the tip of the nape of the neck—the horizontal line at the center of “9” in date. Superb coloration. Catalog states Pop 2/0.
  • PCGS MS64 #38519558: Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2020, Lot 3794 – $50,400. There is a light stain on the reverse at “I” in “FIVE” and a diagonal contact mark below the left wing. There is a small diagonal mark to the left of the 11th star below the hair bun.
  • PCGS MS64 #25057740: “The Fairchild Family Trust Collection,” Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, May 28, 2001, Lot 1358. As NGC MS64 #289090-012. Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2012, Lot 4873 – $31,625; Heritage Auctions, August 3, 2012, Lot 5358 – $35,250. As PCGS MS64 #25057740. Heritage Auctions, January 9, 2014, Lot 5441 – $41,125; Light contact on Liberty’s cheek. There is a copper spot in the obverse field below star 7 and another to the right of star 8 advancing into the reeded edge. Reverse copper spot to the right of the second “S” in “STATES.” Foreign vertical (grease?) mark above the eagle’s beak in the field.
  • NGC MS64: Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, June 2, 2002, Lot 3612 – $18,400. Nearly horizontal mark (or cut) in the obverse field above star 13.
  • NGC MS64: “The Brady Bloch Collection,” Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, September 21, 1999, Lot 1744 – Passed.

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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 denticled rim, with the date centered at the bottom.

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: Five Dollars (USD)
Mint Mark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 118,143
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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