In the late 1830s Mint Director Robert M. Patterson had Engraver Christian Gobrecht modify William Kneass’ classic Liberty portrait on the half eagle. The same image was used on the eagle in 1838, and a year later, on the quarter eagle; the same basic design was also used on the cent and the half cent in the same period. There had been five significant changes to the half eagle design since the first coins of the denomination were produced in 1795, and only one of those designs lasted more than twenty years. This modification, however, lasted nearly 70 years until the early 20th century (counting those of the same style but with the added IN GOD WE TRUST motto), and was followed by only one other major change before the denomination ended in 1929. The Liberty Head design, sometimes called the Coronet Head because of the coronet worn by Liberty, is considered a continuation of the influence of Neoclassicism first seen on the half eagle in 1834.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Liberty Head half eagle production spans the years of the Civil War, and coins were produced in two branch mints within the territory that was known as the Confederate States of America during that conflict. Both Charlotte and Dahlonega produced half eagles in 1861, after having been seized by Confederate forces in April of that year. During the evacuation of Richmond in April, 1865, gold and silver were first shipped to the Charlotte branch for storage, but under pressure from Union cavalry, were transferred to Georgia. The next and final move was to South Carolina, where the treasure was used to pay Confederate troops. The San Francisco Mint started producing Liberty Head half eagles in 1854, but only 268 coins were minted in the inaugural year. This issue is the series rarity, with only three 1854-S half eagles known today, one of which is in the Smithsonian. Mint records indicate that fifty half eagles were made at New Orleans in 1841, but because not a single example is known today all were presumed melted.
On the obverse a classical Liberty faces to the left, hair bundled at the back and secured with a beaded tie, but with two strands of hair cascading down the side and back of the neck. The word LIBERTY stretches across a coronet resting above her forehead. Thirteen six-point stars encircle just inside a dentilled rim, with the date centered at the bottom. On 1839 examples C (Charlotte) and D (Dahlonega) mint marks are placed above the date and below the portrait. The reverse displays an eagle with outstretched wings and a shield over its breast. The eagle clutches an olive branch in its right claw (viewer?s left) and three arrows in the left claw, though fletching is visible for only two of the arrows. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, broken into three parts by the eagle?s wing tips, follows the periphery. The denomination of FIVE D. at the bottom completes the circle of text, separated from the U and A by a centered dot on each side. 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.
A few hundred Liberty Head No Motto half eagles are tallied in census/ population reports for most dates, the count including a few prooflike pieces. Branch mint examples and some varieties are not as common, and all pieces are scarce for the years 1862 through 1866. Philadelphia issues are moderately priced to AU55 for most dates except for the coins produced after 1861, and expensive to very expensive finer. Branch mint examples are generally expensive to very expensive at all grades, with some Gem and finer pieces extremely expensive. The most expensive half eagle of the type is the 1854-S, which would likely list for well over one million dollars if an example became available. Very few proof No Motto half eagles have been certified, though some have received the Cameo and Deep Cameo designations. All are very rare to extremely rare, and are expensive to extremely expensive (Select proof and finer), particularly for those pieces minted before 1859.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht
Circulation Mintage: high 915,981 (1847), low 268 (1854-S. Fifty coins were reportedly minted in 1841 at New Orleans, but no existing examples are known)
Proof Mintage: high 80 (1859), low 5 or fewer (estimated, several years prior to 1858)
Diameter: 22.5 mm, 1839-1840; 21.6 mm, 1840-1866. Reeded edge.
Metal Content: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 8.36 grams
Varieties: Many known including 1842 Small Letters, Large Letters; 1842-C Small Date, Large Date; 1842-D Small Date, Large Date; 1843-O Large Letters, Small Letters; 1846 Large Date, 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 minor die variations.
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
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Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint: 1838-1861. Douglas Winter. Zyrus Press
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