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HomeUS CoinsLiberty Head Quarter Eagle, 1840-1907 | CoinWeek

Liberty Head Quarter Eagle, 1840-1907 | CoinWeek

1852-C Liberty Head Quarter Eagle graded NGC MS61. Image: Stack's Bowers.
1852-C Liberty Head Quarter Eagle graded NGC MS61. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

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

Christian Gobrecht’s depiction of Liberty followed United States Mint Chief Engraver William Kneass’ Classic Head design, its introduction a culmination of efforts to both standardize the design and find an acceptable representation for a long period of use. Although the quarter eagle $2.50 gold coin denomination had been minted since 1796, there were six previous design changes before this latest effort by Gobrecht. The preceding Kneass Classic Head was used for only six years; none of the other designs were in production for more than eight.

Though the differences between the previous depiction of Liberty and Gobrecht’s are obvious, the general presentation is similar. The reverse is nearly identical, with relatively minor changes to the depiction of the eagle and other design elements.

Gobrecht’s Liberty Head–or Coronet Head, as the design is sometimes called–first appeared on the eagle $10 gold coin in 1838 but was also used on several other 19th-century issues, including the Braided Hair Half Cent and the Modified Matron Head Large Cent. In 1839, the design also debuted on the $5 half eagle. The Liberty Head design had the distinction of being used longer than any other U.S. coin type with no major changes (68 years) until the Roosevelt Dime took that title in 2015.

The Liberty Head Quarter Eagle is highly collectible. As a series produced at five mints and spanning the Civil War years, there are several rarities, numerous scarce issues, and plenty of stories.

The Famous 1848 “CAL” Liberty Head Quarter Eagle and Other Rarities

1848 "CAL" Liberty Head quarter eagle.
1848 “CAL” Liberty Head quarter eagle.

One of the best-known and most desirable varieties of Liberty Head Quarter Eagle is the 1848 California issue, produced at the beginning of the discovery and mining of significant gold deposits in that state. Secretary of War William L. Marcy sent about 230 ounces of gold to the Philadelphia Mint, having received the bullion from the military governor of the Territory of California, Col. R.B. Mason. This gold was then coined into quarter eagles with a distinguishing CAL. counterstamp on the reverse.

Some consider the 1848 CAL. Above Eagle the first U.S. commemorative issue, produced several decades before Congress authorized the production of the 1892 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar because it was produced in recognition of a historical event. Others collect the piece as a separate type, though it is prohibitively expensive.

Other rarities are comprised of key date branch mint issues, particularly those from Charlotte and Dahlonega, and the Civil War-era Philadelphia pieces. The 1854-S Liberty Head Quarter Eagle, with its reported mintage of just 268 pieces, is the key to the series.

Contrast that to the fact that some low-mintage quarter eagles from the 1880s are more available than one might expect because many have been recovered from European caches.

How Much Are Liberty Head Quarter Eagles Worth?

Tens of thousands of business strike Liberty Head Quarter Eagles have been certified, including many Prooflike pieces. To date, more examples from the early 20th century have been certified.

Prices are modest for many Philadelphia issues to MS60 and expensive finer; 1840s examples and Civil War-era pieces are expensive in AU55 and finer. Most Charlotte and Dahlonega Quarter Eagles are expensive to very expensive in XF40 and finer, and San Francisco issues are generally expensive in AU55 and finer. Higher priced coins include the 1841 (extremely rare and expensive) and the 1848 CAL. Above Eagle (expensive to extremely expensive); dates from the 1840s in general; Charlotte and Dahlonega coins; the 1854-S (extremely rare and expensive); 1864-1866 Philadelphia pieces; the 1875; most pre-1880s pieces as MS62 and finer; and the 1881.

A few thousand Proof examples have been certified, many as Cameo and Deep/Ultra Cameo, and more from the late 1890s forward. Nearly all are extremely expensive, particularly at PR64 and finer. Cameo/Deep Cameo examples command higher premiums, and other expensive issues include the 1841 (extremely expensive), the 1863 (minted in Proof only, very expensive to extremely expensive), and the 1875.

Date-by-Date Analysis by CoinWeek Notes

1840-D Liberty Head Quarter Eagle. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1840-D Liberty Head Quarter Eagle. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

Extended Coverage by CoinWeek

Rare Gold Coins Under $5,000: Very Rare Liberty Head Quarter Eagles - Greg Reynolds

CoinWeek contributor and rare U.S. coin expert Greg Reynolds offers extensive advice on collecting Liberty Head Quarter Eagle gold coins on a budget. Of course, in today’s world of $2K+ gold, “budget” is relative if you’re serious about the series.

Which U.S. gold coin expert and CoinWeek content partner Doug Winter assumes you are. He has written extensively on the topic, and CoinWeek has published many of his articles:

stretch dates quarter eagles

  • The Liberty Head Gold Coins of San Francisco: The Quarter Eagle
  • The Liberty Head Gold Coins of San Francisco: The Quarter Eagle

    Graders at NGC came across this counterfeit Civil War-era quarter eagle and provided some detection tips to collectors.



    Liberty is in the center of the obverse, facing left. Her hair is bundled at the back with a string of beads, though a couple of hair strands fall down the neck. Across the top of the head is a cornet inscribed with the word LIBERTY. Thirteen six-point stars surround Liberty inside the denticulated rim, with the date centered at the bottom.


    The reverse is dominated by a centered left-facing eagle, wings outstretched nearly to the denticles, body covered by a Union shield. The eagle holds an olive branch in the right claw (left to the observer) and three arrows in the left claw; fletching is visible for only two of the arrows. 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. The denomination of 2 1/2 D. is at the bottom, separated from UNITED and AMERICA by centered dots. Liberty Head Quarter Eagles were minted at Philadelphia, Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, and San Francisco; C, D, O, and S mintmarks are located above the denomination and below the eagle, somewhat overlapping the branch and the arrow fletching.


    The edge of the Liberty Head Quarter Eagle is reeded, a common anti-counterfeiting measure.


    Several varieties are known to exist, including the 1843-C Small Date Crosslet 4 and Large Date Plain 4; the 1843-D Small Date Crosslet 4; the 1843-O Small Date Crosslet 4 and Large Date Plain 4; the 1848 CAL. Above Eagle discussed above; the 1859, 1860, and 1861 Old Reverse and New Reverse; the 1862 2 Over 1; the 1873 Close 3 and Open 3; and other, more minor die variations.

    Liberty Head Quarter Eagle Coin Specifications

    Liberty Head Quarter Eagle
    Years Of Issue: 1834-37
    Mintage (Business): High: 1,404,668 (1853); Low: 246 (1854-C)
    Mintage (Proof): High: 223 (1901), low 20 (1874, 1875, 1877, 1888; 20 or fewer per year estimated before 1859)
    Alloy: 90% gold, 10% silver
    Weight: 4.18 g
    Diameter: 18.00 mm
    Edge: Reeded
    OBV Designer: Christian Gobrecht (after John Reich and William Kneass)
    REV Designer: Christian Gobrecht (after John Reich and William Kneass)


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    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

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