A Brief Pre-1933 Gold Coin History: $5 Gold Half Eagles
Authorized by the Coinage Act of 1792, the $5 Gold Half Eagle, minted from 1795-1929, was actually the first Gold coin denomination struck by the United States Mint. The Eagle had a value of $10, thus the $5 coin became known as a Half Eagle.
These $5 coins were the workhorse of their day and circulated mainly in the West. Due to their wide circulation, many show heavy signs of wear. However, some were given for gifts or special occasions, making many dates still available in choice condition. Another factor adding to the popularity of this issue is the fact that most of the coins issued before 1834 may have been melted because oftentimes the value of the metal was worth more than the $5 face value.
Gold Half Eagles are the only denomination to have been struck at all eight U.S. Mint facilities. Many of the branch mint coins from the 1830s through the 1850s have much lower mintages than the Philadelphia minted coins adding to their value. Gold mined from the areas of Carson City, NV, Charlotte, NC, Dahlonega, GA, New Orleans, LA, and San Francisco, CA, was available in lower quantity, therefore fewer coins tended to be struck from those mints. Rounding out the mints are Philadelphia, PA, Denver, CO and West Point, NY, used on modern commemoratives.
Throughout its 134-year minting, the Gold Half Eagle was produced in five unique designs: Turban Head (1795-1807), Draped Bust (1807-1834), Classic Head (1834-1839), Liberty Head (1840-1908) and Indian Head (1908-1929).
The last design of the $5 Half Eagle is unique in the fact that it is one of only two denominations to feature an incuse, or sunken, relief and an edge that was not raised like all other U.S. coins. These coins were struck sporadically from 1908-1929. Additionally, the majority of the last year was melted, making them quite rare today!
The Gold Act of 1934 prohibited most ownership of Gold and required Americans to turn in any Gold to the government. This resulted in many coins to be melted, further adding to the scarcity of many dates in the series. Rising Precious Metals prices have also increased the value of the Gold Half Eagle, making them highly sought after today.