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Capped Head Half Eagle, 1813-1834 | CoinWeek

1813 Capped Head Half Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1813 Capped Head Half Eagle. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

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

When the Capped Head Half Eagle debuted in 1813, it was the only United States gold coin in production. Gold quarter eagles were last made in 1808 and would not be minted again until 1821, and the $10 gold eagle had not been struck since 1804, with no further production until 1838.

Two factors impacted gold coin production at the United States Mint.

First, the gold that was brought to the Mint for coinage came generally from banks, and banks preferred half eagles for internal reserves and international trade.

Second, a fixed 15:1 silver-to-gold ratio put the United States at a disadvantage against foreign coins as it took less silver to buy American gold coins. Money changers took advantage and U.S. gold coins were purchased and traded in Europe for a profit. As a result, many coins were melted down, creating several rare issues.

No half eagles were minted in 1816 and 1817 due to a fire at the Mint on January 11, 1816, that damaged machinery used to prepare coinage strips and planchets.

In 1829, changes in technology resulted in the production of a new version of the Capped Head type. The introduction of the close collar, or collar die, not only standardized the coin’s diameter but also improved the strike. Under the previous production method, the planchet had room to expand during striking, which resulted in a slight variance in the finished coin diameter. The collar die also imparted a reeded edge to the coin.

Chief Engraver William Kneass made slight modifications to the John Reich/Robert Scot half eagle design to accommodate the new technology – most notably adding a beaded border inside of plain rims in contrast to the previous denticulated border that extended to the edge of the coin. However, the technology change did nothing to address the disparity between the face value of the half eagle and its bullion value, and gold coins continued to be melted.

Not until the Act of June 28, 1834, did Congress reduce the weight of all gold coins and remove the incentive to melt those coins.

How Much Are Capped Head Half Eagles Worth?

Only the business strike 1813 Capped Head Half Eagle is represented by more than 120 coins in census and population reports. Many dates and varieties of this type are known by fewer than 20 examples, and some by fewer than five.

Coins at all grades are expensive, often very expensive at grades finer than Extremely Fine. Issues and varieties that are higher priced include the 1815, the 1819, the 1819 5D/50, the 1822, the 1825/4, the 1828/7, and the 1829.

The 1822 half eagle is considered one of the premier U.S. coinage rarities, with only three examples known and two of those permanently housed in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. This coin was the second-most-valuable coin in the historic D. Brent Pogue Family Collection. It sold in March 2021 for $8.4 million.

The 1825/4/1 is the second-most-expensive example of the type, with an estimated value of over $2 million.

Proof issues are likewise extremely rare, and have been certified only for 1830, 1832, and 1833, with no more than a half dozen coins for any one date. All Proofs are extremely expensive, approaching prices of one million dollars as Premium Gem or finer.

Varieties

Several varieties are known, including overdates of 1814/3 (all of the 1814 issues); 1825/1 (or possibly a partial 4 instead of a 1); 1825/4; 1828/7; 1818 STATESOF, with no space between the two words; 1818 and 1819 5D/50; 1820 Curved and Square base of the 2, Large and Small Letters; 1832 with only 12 obverse stars; and 1834 Plain and Crosslet 4. There are additional varieties with small and large numbers/letters, as well as other minor variations in the size or placement of device features. Some varieties are extremely rare, with only five or fewer pieces known.

Extended Capped Head Half Eagle Coverage on CoinWeek

In this auction preview, U.S. coin expert Greg Reynolds explains the Capped Head Half Eagle series and discusses several important specimens.

Design

Obverse:

The obverse features a left-facing portrait of Liberty, slightly larger and more “matronly” in appearance than the previous version. Thirteen six-pointed stars circle the bust inside the denticulated border, and the date is at the bottom. Half eagles struck in the latter part of 1829 through the early part of 1834 have a beaded border inside of a plain raised rim.

Reverse:

The reverse features a left-facing eagle, wings outstretched, clutching an olive branch in its right claw and three arrows in its left. A shield covers most of the eagle’s body. Above the eagle is a simple curved banner, ends folded to the back, displaying the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. Inside the rim, denticulated through 1829 and beaded from that date forward as on the obverse, is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which forms nearly a complete circle (with breaks on either side of STATES OF to allow for the eagle’s wing tips) with the denomination 5 D. at the bottom. The obverse stars and date and reverse lettering are smaller on the reduced diameter coins issued 1829-1834.

Capped Head Half Eagle Coin Specifications

Capped Head Half Eagle
Years of Issue: 1813-34
Mintage (Business): High: 263,806 (1820); Low: 635 (1815)
Mintage (Proof): High: 5 (1825-1832, 1834); Low: 2 (1833; none known before 1825)
Alloy: 91.67% gold, 8.33% silver and copper
Weight: 4.18 g
Diameter: ±25.00 mm; 23.80 mm from late 1829 onward
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: John Reich (1813-1815); Robert Scot (1818-1829); William Kneass (1829-1834)
REV Designer: John Reich (1813-1815); Robert Scot (1818-1829); William Kneass (1829-1834)

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Dannreuther, John and Harry W. Bass, Jr. Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, A Study of Die States. 1795-1834. Whitman Publishing.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

–. Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins: 1795-1933. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.
 

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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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