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1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle Proof : A Collector’s Guide

1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle Proof. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle Proof. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

Proof coinage of the gold $5 half eagle denomination is reported in very low numbers starting in 1820 and continuing, with some gaps, through the Capped Bust and Classic Head types. Generally, only a few coins are known for each date, and these are prohibitively rare or impounded in institutional collections.

By 1839, when Christian Gobrecht’s Liberty Head Half Eagle design debuted, the United States Mint had produced approximately 50 Proof coins for the denomination. These special strikes were typically provided to government officials and dignitaries or were made for inclusion in the Mint Cabinet.

For the 1839 issue, researcher John Dannreuther estimates a mintage of four, with only two coins recently accounted for. PCGS reports a population of three, but we are inclined to believe that this is in error. NGC reports a population of one coin, but this coin crossed to PCGS before its appearance in the August 2012 Heritage Auctions sale.

Both known examples are in an impaired state of preservation and graded Proof-61.

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.

As is the case with the 1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle business strike, the two known examples of the 1839 Liberty Head Half Eagle Proof exhibit a raised dot on Liberty’s neck behind her front curl.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population: PCGS PR61 (3, 4/2024), NGC None Graded (4/2024), and CAC None Graded (4/2024).

  • PCGS PR61 #06680570: William H. Woodin; Waldo Newcomer; Col. E.H.R. Green; Burdette G. Johnson; King Farouk; “The Palace Collections of Egypt,” Sotheby’s, February 1954, Lot 249 (sold in a large lot); “The Thomas Melish Collection,” Abe Kosoff, April 1956, Lot 1983; Paul and Art Kagin; Hollinbeck Coin Company, November 1959; unknown intermediaries; As NGC PF61 #1920705-001. Heritage Auctions, January 2010, Lot 2192 – $184,000. As PCGS PR61 #06680570. Heritage Auctions, August 3, 2012, Lot 5367 – $199,750; Brian Hendelson. Myriad crosshatched hairlines on the obverse and reverse fields. Horizontal hit in the left field between stars 2 and 3. Copper spot above the eagle’s head.
  • PCGS PR61: Purchased as part of a three-piece 1839 gold Proof Set by Marc Emory, for New England Rare Coin Galleries, c. 1982; Bowers and Merena, May 1993, Lot 2540 (sold as a set) – $143,000; Superior Galleries, August 2006, Lot 571 – $136,679.

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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: Two Known
Alloy: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 8.36 g
Diameter: 22.50 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
Quality: Proof

 

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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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