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HomeUS Coins1903-S Liberty Head Half Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1903-S Liberty Head Half Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1903-S Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: CoinWeek.
1903-S Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: CoinWeek.

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

1903 saw a series of interesting events for America: the United States leased Guantanamo Bay from Cuba, the Ford Motor Company was founded, and Panama seceded from Colombia with American backing. Additionally, the United States Mint also struck roughly 60.8 million coins for the newly formed American Philippine government, of which the San Francisco Mint was responsible for 12.5 million silver pesos, 20 centavo pieces, and 10 centavo coins.

Despite spending the entirety of May, June, and July of 1903 striking coins exclusively for the Philippines, the San Francisco Mint was also able to produce a very large issuance of Liberty Head half eagles in 1903. The branch mint issued that year what would be the sixth-largest mintage of the entire series. At over 1.85 million pieces, this was the last issuance in the series of over one million and the largest since 1901, when San Francisco struck 3.648 million pieces. Furthermore, between 1902 and 1929 (when the denomination was canceled for good), only the 1909-D Indian Head had a larger mintage.

Throughout the fiscal year ending in June of 1903, the San Francisco Mint received 35 dies from the Engraving Department, while the Philadelphia Mint received only 14. The two mints received 24 and 12 dies the following fiscal year, respectively. If all of these dies were used for the entirety of their useful lives, then the San Francisco Mint was at least twice as efficient in 1903 than its Philadelphia counterpart.

What Is the 1903-S Liberty Head Half Eagle Worth?

Today, these coins are quite common up through mid-Mint State. With such a large mintage, there is enough supply to ensure that most examples are worth only a small premium over melt. If a collector were to go to their local coin store tomorrow to purchase a mid-grade example of the 1903-S half eagle, they would most likely need to pay between $450 and $475 since the melt value of the gold is standing at around $430 in May 2024. Due to the general availability of this type, auction records mainly represent examples in MS grades.

United States 1903-S $5 Half Eagle Gold Coin

Recently, MS61 coins have been selling for roughly $650 to $675–a 12% to 16% premium over melt.

After this, their numismatic value begins to outweigh its bullion value, and MS62 to MS63 examples have been selling for upwards of $800 to $850.

Still quite common, with a combined population of 1,752 pieces, coins in MS64 are selling for around $1,000 at the time of publication (May 2024).

It isn’t until MS66 that this type becomes a conditional rarity, a status reflected in the price. With only 88 graded and certified examples at CAC, NGC, and PCGS, these coins have sold for as much as $8,400. More commonly, MS66s sell for between $3,000 and $4,000 at auction.

Top population examples (MS67s) have been known to sell for between $10,000 and $15,000. Currently, the graded population at NGC and PCGS stands at a combined 13 pieces (CAC counts 14 stickered coins). Due to the date’s sizable mintage, the actual population of Superb Gem examples could grow higher. There may even be an MS67+ or MS68 out there waiting to be found or upgraded. Given the history of such events, the appearance of such a specimen would bring attention to that coin and negatively impact the value of examples in the next highest grade.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population: PCGS MS67 (5, 5/2024), NGC MS67 (8, 5/2024), and CACG MS66 (14:0, stickered:graded, 5/2024).

  • PCGS MS67 #47710278: As NGC MS67 #1849797-019. Stack’s Bowers, March 13, 2013, Lot 2170 – $11,162.50; Heritage Auctions, February 9, 2023, Lot 3815 – $11,100. PQ (Stuppler) sticker. As PCGS MS67 #47710278. Heritage Auctions, March 28, 2024, Lot 3103 – $10,800Planchet void in the left field near star 5. Die crack through star five and star 6. Cluster of voids between stars 12 and 13. Copper spot in the area between stars 7 and 8. Dark smear between stars 6 and 7. Small hit above R of LIBERTY. Two small ticks in the bust truncation. On the reverse, there is a small void above I of FIVE. Two deep cuts above between the tip of the stem and D. Small die crack from the tip of the eagle’s wing to the S of STATES. Another die crack from F through the eagle’s left wing.
  • PCGS MS67 #47968975: Heritage Auctions, January 12, 2024, Lot 4897 – $17,400. Die crack from star 5 to 6. Thin scratch on jaw. Small cluster of hits in the right obverse field to the left of star 12. Small disturbances to the left of the forehead. On the reverse, there is a die crack from D through STAT.
  • NGC MS67 #6329579-013: Heritage Auctions, July 20, 2023, Lot 3224 – $10,500. RARCOA’s green label. Thin deep diagonal hit of chin. Two tiny dark marks below star 8. Thin rim hit at 12 o’clock. Small diagonal mark on the neck above 03. Tiny hit in the hair above E. On the reverse, a thin cluster of marks above FI and another above the eagle’s head. There is a tiny tick in the right field to the left of E on AMERICA and small dark mark above C.
  • PCGS MS67 #46028915: As NGC MS67 #429850-006. Stack’s Bowers, June 15, 2022, Lot 2136 – $11,400. As PCGS MS67 #46028915. Stack’s Bowers, March 21, 2023, Lot 3221 – $13,800. Thin diagonal scratch from the corner of the lip. Thin scratch between stars 8 and 9. Small void at rim between stars 12 and 13. On the reverse, slight disturbance in the field above FI. Plate coin of this article.
  • PCGS MS67 #36763611: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 16, 2019, Lot 549 – $22,912.50. Small cluster of hits to the left of the bust. Tiny tick between stars 1 and 2. Copper spot to the right of 3. Copper spot touching the bottom of the hair bun. On the reverse is a die crack from D through the wing to S. Black mark over N and D.
  • PCGS MS67 #36533664: Heritage Auctions, April 25, 2019, Lot 3874 – $15,600. Die cracks through stars 5 and 6. Copper spot to the left of star 12. Hit to the left of star 8. On the reverse, there is a tick to the right of E in AMERICA and a dark mark beneath. Dark mark below eagle’s right wing.
  • NGC MS67 #448242-008: Stack’s Bowers, May 25, 2016, Lot 92 – $9,987.50. Tiny tick to the left of the tip of the nose. Diagonal hit to the right of Liberty’s leftmost dangling hairlock. Cluster of small hits between stars 10 and 11. Thing scratch in the right field to the left of star 12. On the reverse, Die crack through OF to the wing. Tiny tick above the branch.
  • NGC MS67 #377460-007: Heritage Auctions, September 27, 2013, Lot 6792 – $12,375.10. Tiny ticks to the right of the neck. Two tiny ticks to the right of star 2. Tiny tick to the left of 1. Thin dark mark below the eye. Light disturbance to the right of the lip. On the reverse, there is a prominent dark mark to the right of ED, a cluster of hits above the eagle’s head, and a diagonal mark below U of TRUST. In the field, in the space below the mintmark is a long cluster of small hits.
  • NGC MS67: Stack’s Bowers, March 13, 2013, Lot 2170 – $11,162.50. Small planchet void in the left field just below star 5. Die crack through star 5. Tiny tick on bust truncation above 0 and 3. On the reverse, there is a tiny tick above D of FIVE D and a small cluster of ticks above the branch.
  • NGC MS67: Stack’s Bowers, November 15, 2011, Lot 9594 – $10,062.50. Planchet gouge under the chin. Die crack through stars 3 to 6. On the reverse, scrapes above eagle’s head, die crack from D of UNITED to the wing. Hit on F of FIVE.

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Design

Obverse:

Redesigned in 1839, the main differences between the new Liberty Head design by Christian Gobrecht and the Classic Head Half Eagle by William Kneass can be seen on the obverse. Gobrecht retained the 13 six-pointed stars ringing the obverse field, representing the 13 original US states. The date (1903) remained at the bottom, and the whole design was ringed by a denticled edge. However, the Liberty Head’s Lady Liberty was made slightly younger-looking. In this design, Liberty’s hair is styled up in a bun that is kept in place by a thin beaded thread. Her bangs curl to the back, with several locks of hair hanging down her neck. Additionally, Liberty’s tiara was made slightly more pronounced towards the front.

Reverse:

The reverse design was changed in only one place: the denomination. Previously labeled “5 D.”, the denomination was now spelled out as “FIVE D.”. The heraldic eagle, with its customary arrows and olive branches, remained central to the reverse design. The shield decorated with 12 vertical bars and seven horizontal stripes is placed directly in front of the eagles’ chest feathers. The eagle’s wings interrupt the legend, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and almost touch the denticled border. The denomination at the bottom of the design is separated from the legend by two centering dots. Struck at the San Francisco Mint, this coin bears the “S” mintmark between the eagle’s claws and the denomination. Interestingly, the Liberty Head Half Eagle is the only United States gold coin struck at seven different branch mints.

Edge:

The edge of the 1903-S Liberty Head Half Eagle is reeded.

Designer

Born in 1785, Christian Gobrecht began working for the United States Mint in 1823 and became the Mint’s third Chief Engraver in 1840. He served in that position until he died in 1844. Gobrect designed the Flying Eagle cent (1857-1858), the Liberty Seated type, and the Liberty Head Quarter Eagle gold coin (1840-1907). A tinkerer, he also invented a medal-ruling machine, created his own musical instruments, and developed a camera lucida, which projected images onto pieces of paper.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1903
Denomination: Five Dollars (USD)
Mintmark: S (San Francisco)
Mintage: 1,855,000
Alloy: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 8.36 g
Diameter: 21.60 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
Quality: Business Strike

 

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Sources

https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/514125

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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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