The Joys of Collecting column from July 27, 2015, issue of Coin World:
The gold coins minted from 1795 into early 1834 were worth more in
melt value than the denominations they represented. Most of them made
from 1795 to 1820 were exported as trade coins and melted at their
destinations, and probably over 99 percent of those struck after 1820
met that fate.
In the 1830s, Sen. Thomas Hart Benton from Missouri took the
lead in restoring gold to circulation. This was done by the Act of
June 28, 1834, which reduced the gold content of the denominations
then being made — the $2.50 quarter eagle and the $5 half eagle.
In the meantime Mint Engraver William Kneass created a design to
differentiate the Act of 1834 gold coins. Called the Classic Head
design today, the motif was hardly original and was copied from a
similar motif used on half cents beginning in 1809 and cents beginning
in 1808. The reverse with a perched eagle was not much different from
that used before, except that the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM was dropped.
Classic Head quarter eagles were minted in quantity at the
Philadelphia Mint from 1834 through 1839, after which they were
replaced by Christian Gobrecht’s Coronet design. Half eagles
of the new motif were made in Philadelphia through 1838. In the
meantime, the three Branch Mints at New Orleans, Charlotte and
Dahlonega, authorized by Congress in 1835, were completed and in 1838
began issuing coins. Classic Head quarter eagles with Mint marks are
the 1838-C, 1839-C, 1839-D and 1839-O coins. Branch Mint half eagles
were the 1838-C and 1838-D piece.
Today a complete set of Classic Head gold coins by date and Mint is
a reasonable objective for many numismatists and is well worth
investigating. There are no “impossible” rarities, but the C and D
Mint coins run into several thousand dollars each in Very Fine and
Extremely Fine grades. Nearly all of the great collections in the past
had many gold issues in circulated grades. Today, many think that
unless a coin is Mint State, somehow it is subpar. Such a guideline is
great for modern coins, but hardly applicable for early 19th century issues.
A book on Classic Head die varieties is planned by John McCloskey,
who recently retired from many years of editing of the
Gobrecht Journal. No doubt, it will create
much new interest in the series.
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