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HomeUS CoinsClassic Head Quarter Eagle, 1834-1839 | CoinWeek

Classic Head Quarter Eagle, 1834-1839 | CoinWeek

Classic Head Quarter Eagle. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
Classic Head Quarter Eagle. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

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

While the United States Mint had produced gold coins since 1795, few gold coins of any denomination circulated, and those that did traded at more than face value due to the fluctuations of the global gold market. Understanding this, the Jefferson Administration halted production of America’s largest gold coin, the $10 gold eagle, in 1804. The suspension of eagle coinage pushed the $5 gold Half Eagle into export trade channels, as it was now the largest U.S. gold coin denomination in production.

Despite this, the $2.50 quarter eagle denomination was not a popular coin type and was infrequently requested by the Mint’s depositors.

Documents stored at the United States National Archives refer to an instance where 40,000 half eagles were melted in Paris in 1831. In response to this and the growing problem of gold not circulating, Congress passed the Act of June 28, 1834, which reduced the weight of the gold quarter eagle by 0.19 grams – an amount that Congress hoped would be sufficient to halt the wholesale melting of the U.S gold coins as bullion.

With the weight reduction came a redesign of Liberty’s portrait, and to help the public distinguish new quarter eagles from old, the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM was removed from the reverse. The motto was intended to be restored in 1835, but this did not happen. Instead, the entire design would be updated again in 1840.

As for the gold quarter eagles of the old tenor, Mint Director Samuel Moore expected depositors to redeem these coins, now worth $2.66 by tale, after the passage of the Act. This did happen, and many early quarter eagles were melted down and recoined as a result.

The new design of Liberty by Chief Engraver William Kneass is widely considered a copy of the John Reich design used on cents and half cents in the early 1800s. Some have noted that Kneass’ Liberty is neither as complex in detail nor as refined in execution as the preceding Capped Head design. The portrait has also been described as androgynous, with the hairdo and fillet (the narrow headband) more appropriate to ancient Greek male athletes. Kneass and his successor Christian Gobrecht made additional changes to improve the design, one of which produced the “Booby Head” type in 1834, so labeled by John Clapp sometime before 1942.

How Much Is the Classic Quarter Head Eagle Worth?

Nearly 10,000 business strike Classic Head Quarter Eagles have been certified, including a few Prooflike pieces. Prices are modest for most dates to AU55 but quickly escalate in price and difficulty of acquisition in the Mint State grades of MS63 and above. For comparison’s sake, an 1834 Classic Head Quarter Eagle in AU55 might sell for about $1,500, while we would expect that same date to bring $9,500 at auction in MS63 and $35,000 in MS65.

Classic Head Quarter Eagles minted at Charlotte and Dahlonega are more expensive, as are (to a lesser extent) the 1839 New Orleans coins.

A very small number of Proofs have been certified for most dates, including a few pieces with a Cameo or Deep Cameo designation. With so few Proofs struck for each date, collecting them is prohibitively expensive for all but the most affluent collectors

Extended Coverage on CoinWeek

CoinWeek contributor Greg Reynolds considered the Classic Head Quarter Eagle important enough to offer his tips on collecting it on a budget in Part 1 of his series “Rare Gold Coins Under $5,000”.

Design

Obverse:

A youthful Liberty faces left on the obverse, surrounded mostly by a circle of 13 six-pointed stars, with the date at the bottom, inside a denticulated rim. Liberty wears a fillet inscribed with LIBERTY, with the ends of a ribbon visible at the back of the neck. Liberty’s curled hair is visible above the band, around her ear, and down the back of her neck, though constrained by the band on the forehead.

Classic Head Quarter Eagles were struck at Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans; C, D, and O mintmarks are positioned above the date, below the neck.

Reverse:

The reverse is dominated by a centered left-facing eagle, wings outstretched nearly to the denticles, body covered by a Union shield, an olive branch in the right claw (left to the observer), and three arrows in the left claw. Surrounding the eagle is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA inside the denticulated rim, the text separated into three parts by the eagle’s wing tips and the denomination of 2 1/2 D. at the bottom.

Varieties

A few varieties are known, including the 1834 Small Head and Large (Booby) Head; the 1836 Script 8 and Block 8 (referring to the form of the inscribed numeral “8”); the 1836 Head of 1835; and other, more minor die variations.

Classic Head Quarter Eagle Coin Specifications

Classic Head Quarter Eagle
Years Of Issue: 1834-37
Mintage (Business): High: 547,989 (1836); Low: 7,880 (1838-C)
Mintage (Proof): High: 10 (estimated total for each year, unknown for 1838)
Alloy: 89.92% gold, 10.08% copper (1834-36); 90% gold, 10% silver (1837-39)
Weight: 4.18 g
Diameter: 18.20 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: William Kneass, based on previous designs by Robert Scot and John Reich; additional work done by Christian Gobrecht.
REV Designer: John Reich

 

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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.

Winter, Douglas. Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861. Zyrus Press.

–. Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909. Zyrus Press

–. Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint: 1838-1861. Zyrus Press

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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