Liberty Head Half Eagle (1839-1908)
The eagle was one of the classic denominations of U.S. coinage, created in the Coinage Act of 1792. Its subsidiary denominations the quarter and half eagle were commonly coined from the beginning of U.S. coinage through the early 20th century. The double eagle was struck from the 1850s through the early 20th century.
The Liberty Head half eagle ran from 1839 to 1908. The Liberty head design was also known as the “Coronet Head”, and it was created by Christian Gobrecht. The design with minor modifications was used for the quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle during their run.
Liberty Head Half Eagle Design
Gold coins were mandated by the Coinage Act of 1792, with the quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle finding their genesis in that act. These coins were struck from 90% Gold and 10% Copper, though some of the Gold used at Dahlonega had a bit of Silver in the alloy that gave them a greenish tinge.
The obverse of the coin is Liberty wearing a coronet. The reverse of the coin is a heraldic eagle. The design was created by well-known coin designer Christian Gobrecht, creator of the Liberty Seated design, the half cent, the large cent and the Gobrecht dollar. Gobrecht was the third Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, and he set the tone for much of the coinage that was struck around his time in office.
Gobrecht’s design for the eagles had a fairly long run as U.S. coinage goes. These designs were well-liked and Gold coins saw widespread use. For the most part, these ran unchanged. There were a couple of changes including some slight modifications to the size of some design elements on the reverse. The quarter eagle had no motto, but the half eagle and the eagle ran without a motto in their earlier years and then had a motto added later in their run.
All eagle variants in this era were made with a Gold content of 90%.
The quarter eagle, half eagle and eagle were foundational coins for commerce, though high-value. The value of these coins was linked to the Precious Metal used for the main coin of the denomination, with the eagle being the base coin for Gold, the dollar being the base coin for Silver and the cent being the base coin for Copper.
This continued until base metal coins became a part of American coinage, which marked the beginning of the end for Precious Metal coins. Though the nickel came in the mid 19th century, it marked the beginning of a trend that would make its way through the middle of the 20th: the removal of Precious Metal from circulating coins. Eagles became a thing of the past earlier than other denominations, but they were not the only coin to fall by the wayside.
Eagles of all types have a high value due to their Gold content, but some have a very high premium as well. High-grade specimens of the Liberty Head are very expensive indeed. Most of the more expensive variants come from the branch mints, but there are errors and rarities that go for much more. These will often cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars even in low grades. The half eagles struck at Carson City, Charlotte and Dahlonega are very rare, and the half eagle is the only coin of one design to be minted at seven U.S. Mints.
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