Classic is defined as serving as a standard of excellence, something
traditional or enduring.
Those characteristics aptly describe the Classic Head design used on
the gold $5 half eagle coins struck from 1834 to 1838. The design,
also used on the 1834 to 1838 $2.50 quarter eagles, was the work of
William Kneass who served as the third United States Mint chief engraver.
Kneass was appointed to the position Jan. 28, 1824, for a salary of
$2,000 a year. He replaced Robert Scot, who died in 1823.
Many researchers say a friend of Kneass's, Adam Eckfeldt, the chief
coiner at that time, was most responsible for his appointment.
Not much more is known about the man who is also credited with
designing a pattern for a half dollar dated 1838.
See how much your Classic Head $5 half eagle is
Kneass suffered a stroke in 1835, and died in office five years
later. His Classic Head design was among the last examples of his work.
His interpretation of Liberty wears a headband bearing the word
LIBERTY. The design is similar to John Reich's design for the Classic
Head large cent, which was the first time that word appeared as part
of Liberty's portrait.
The reverse design was a collaboration between John Reich and
Kneass. The eagle with wings outspread has its head turned to the left
with a shield on its breast and olive branches and arrows clasped in
During the first two years of issue the Classic Head half eagle's
metallic content was 89.92 percent gold, 10.08 percent copper and
silver. On Jan. 18, 1837, Congress authorized a change in the gold to
.900 fineness for the half eagle. After that, the coin's metallic
content was 90 percent gold, 10 percent copper and silver.
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: