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Liberty Head Half Eagle, No Motto (1839-1866) | CoinWeek

1843-O Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: Stack's Bowers / Adobe Stock.
1843-O Liberty Head Half Eagle. Image: Stack’s Bowers / Adobe Stock.

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

In the late 1830s, United States Mint Director Robert M. Patterson had Engraver Christian Gobrecht update Liberty’s portrait on America’s gold coinage. Gobrecht first updated the eagle in 1838, the half eagle a year later, and the quarter eagle in 1840.

Gobrecht wouldn’t have realized it then, but his Liberty Head design would serve each denomination through the first decade of the 20th century. The Liberty Head design is sometimes referred to in numismatic literature as the Coronet Head because of the coronet worn by Liberty.

The Liberty Head Half Eagle’s production spans a broad sweep of American history. The first coins rolled off the presses during the Van Buren Administration and concluded during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. In 1838, vulcanized rubber was invented. In 1909, that rubber was put to good use in manufacturing tires for the newly released Ford Model T. The coin served the country through the Civil War, although few freely circulated. In the antebellum South, it was produced at the branch mints in Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans.

Charlotte and Dahlonega produced half eagles in 1861 after being seized by Confederate forces in April of that year. During the evacuation of the Confederate capital Richmond in April 1865, gold and silver bullion was shipped to the Charlotte branch for storage but, under pressure from Union cavalry, was transferred to Georgia. The next and final move was to South Carolina, where the specie was used to pay Confederate troops.

The coin was also struck at the western mints of Carson City, Denver, and San Francisco. In its inaugural year, the San Francisco Mint started producing Liberty Head Half Eagles in 1854, putting out a token emission of only 268 coins. The 1854-S Liberty Head Half Eagle is the key to the series, with only three known today, one of which is permanently impounded in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

Mint records indicate that 50 Liberty Head Half Eagles were struck at New Orleans in 1841, but as not one example is known today, all are presumed melted.

How Much Are Liberty Head No Motto Half Eagles Worth?

Third-party grading services have certified just over 40,000 coins of the Liberty Head No Motto Half Eagle type. In terms of submissions, NGC and PCGS are at parity, and CAC has approved less than 10% of that total.

The Liberty Head Half Eagle was not widely collected when Edgar H. Adams published the landmark work Official Premium List of United States, Private and Territorial Gold Coins (1909). In Premium List, Adams revealed what would now be considered shocking indifference to federal-issue gold coins struck after 1838 and stated that there was little to no premium for half eagles struck after 1860. Collector sentiment has changed over the years, but we sincerely believe that the Liberty Half Eagles remain underrated.

Compared to the mintages of later series, this type’s annual output of coins is small but usually not so small as to make many dates and branch mint issues uncollectible. Philadelphia issues are moderately priced to AU55 for most dates except for the coins produced after 1861 and become increasingly expensive in higher grades. Branch mint examples typically have lower mintages and were not widely saved at the time of their release, so these command significant premiums – especially San Francisco Mint issues of the 1850s and ’60s.

The most expensive Liberty Head Half Eagle of the type is the 1854-S. Of the two known in private hands, the finest known example sold at Stack’s Bowers in March 2020 for $1,920,000 USD, while the other known example sold for $2,400,000 at Heritage’s August 18, 2021 auction.

Small mintages of Liberty Head No Motto Half Eagles were produced. All are rare and highly sought after by afluent specialist collectors.

Liberty Head Half Eagle Design

Obverse:

The effigy of 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 denticulated rim, with the date centered at the bottom.

On 1839 examples, C (Charlotte) and D (Dahlonega) mintmarks are placed above the date and below the portrait.

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. Liberty Head No Motto Half Eagles were minted at Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, and San Francisco; from 1840 forward, C, D, O, and S mintmarks are located on the reverse above FIVE D., below the eagle.

Edge:

The edge of the Liberty Head Half Eagle is reeded.

Varieties

There are many known, including 1842 Small Letters and Large Letters; 1842-C Small Date and Large Date; 1842-D Small Date and Large Date; 1843-O Large Letters and Small Letters; 1846 Large Date and Small Date; 1846-D High Second D Over D; 1847 Top of Extra 7 Very Low at Border; various repunched and overpunched dates; and other, more minor die variations.

Coin Specifications

Liberty Head Half Eagle, No Motto
Years Of Issue: 1839-66
Mintage (Business Strikes): High: 915,981 (1847); Low: 268 (1854-S)
Mintage (Proofs): High: 80 (1859); Low: 5 (estimated, several years prior to 1858)
Alloy: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 8.36 g
Diameter: 22.50 mm (1839-1840); 21.60 mm (1840-1866)
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht
REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht

 

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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.

–. A Guide Book of United of Double Eagle Gold Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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

Garrett, Jeff and Ron Guth. Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, 1795-1933. Whitman Publishing.

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