A rare coin due to its mintage of 154, as of this writing PCGS reports a grand total of 53 examples certified in all grades (from 50 to 67), with most grading 64. The specimen offered Sunday by GreatCollections is one of two graded 66, with only one coin higher at PR-67. PCGS lists one auction result for a PR-66, and that is for a sale in July 2016 where it garnered $34,075.
At the time of writing the highest bid on this Proof Cameo 1903 Liberty Head gold half eagle is $37,000 after 20 bids.
Of course, if you want to check GreatCollections for other Liberty Head gold half eagles–or any other coins, for that matter–be sure to check out the GreatCollections Auction Archives, with records for over 600,000 certified coins the company has sold over the past seven years.
First minted in 1839, the Liberty Head half eagle, sometimes called the Coronet Head because of the coronet worn by Liberty, is considered a continuation of the influence of Neoclassicism style first seen on the half eagle in 1834. The Christian Gobrecht modification of William Kneass’ portrait of Liberty was to last almost 70 years nearly unchanged until replaced by the Bela Lyon Pratt Indian Head style in 1908.
The last significant change to the Liberty Head design occurred near the end of the Civil War. During that conflict religious feeling was ascendant; few families were untouched by the mayhem and uncertainty that accompanied the war’s prosecution. Just a few weeks before the euphoria of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, which was followed a few days later by the horror of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, The Act of March 3, 1865, mandated the placement of IN GOD WE TRUST on all coins large enough to accommodate the inscription. The year 1866 saw half eagles minted both with and without the motto.
Due to hoarding and general uncertainty regarding the nation’s future, hard money circulation had all but ended during the war. The scarcity continued afterward, minimizing the need for large mintages of gold coins. However, by 1878 banks and the government resumed specie payments, half eagles were in demand, and the Mint produced large numbers of the coins. Other than in 1873 (a year of high mintage apparently due to recoinage of worn and obsolete gold pieces deposited by the Treasury), in no year from 1866 through 1877 was the total half eagle output greater than 100,000 coins; in 1875 and 1876, each year’s output was fewer than 25,000 pieces.
Production surpassed one million coins for the first time in 1880 when over 4.5 million pieces were minted. Though not consistently at that level in subsequent years, the mintage of Liberty Head With Motto half eagles dated from the late 1870s forward was high enough that the dates are considered reasonably common today but scarce or rare earlier than that.
Proofs were made in every year of the type, but not until the mid-1890s did production reach 100 or more coins. The year 1903 saw only 154 pieces struck in Philadelphia.
A few hundred Liberty Head With Motto Proof half eagles have been certified, including Cameo and Deep Cameo examples. Proofs from every year are expensive to very expensive, with a few extremely expensive in Gem and finer.
Designed by Christian Gobrecht, the obverse features a classical Liberty facing 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 the neck. The word LIBERTY is written across a coronet resting above her forehead. Thirteen six-point stars encircle just inside a denticled rim, and the date is centered at the bottom.
The reverse displays an eagle facing to its right with outstretched wings and a shield over its breast. The eagle clutches an olive branch in its right claw (viewer’s left) and three arrows in the left claw, though fletching is visible for only two of the arrows. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, broken into three parts by the eagle’s wingtips, follows the periphery. The denomination of FIVE D. at the bottom completes the circle of text, separated from the U of UNITED and the last A of AMERICA by a centered dot on each side. Above the eagle, below STATES OF, is a curved banner displaying the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST.