The Joys of Collecting column from Aug. 31, 2015, issue of Coin World:
Coronet $5 gold half eagles, sometimes referred to as Liberty Head
coins, were minted continuously from 1839 to 1908. The design was by
U.S. Mint engraver Christian Gobrecht, best remembered today for
his Seated Liberty silver coin motif.
The gold $5 coin shows a head of Liberty on the obverse, wearing a
coronet or tiara, with 13 stars surrounding and the date below.
The reverse depicts a perched eagle, a variation of a motif first
used by John Reich on the reverse of the gold $5 coins of 1807.
Coronet half eagles were struck at the Philadelphia Mint each year. At the Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans Mints, they were coined
intermittently until the Civil War in 1861. In the first year, 1839,
the Charlotte and Dahlonega Mints struck this denomination. A Mint
mark, C or D, was placed on the obverse above the date. Beginning in
1840, Mint marks were added to the reverse below the eagle.
In March 1854 the San Francisco Mint opened. In that year only 268
half eagles were minted, creating what is recognized today as one of
America’s greatest rarities. During and after the Civil War coinage
took place only at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints. It was a
time of uncertainty, and in the East and Midwest citizens hoarded
silver and gold coins, especially after legal tender notes were
authorized in March 1862. The Treasury was low on funds, and such
bills could be exchanged at par only for other paper money, not for
precious-metal coins. Not until Dec. 17, 1878, were the legal tender
notes and gold traded at par.
On the West Coast coins were plentiful and used in commerce at face
value. Legal tender notes traded at a deep discount.
There was a modification in 1866 when the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was
added to the reverse.
The Carson City Mint opened in 1870 and continued through 1893,
except for the years 1886 to 1888, and produced half eagles. From 1892
to 1894 the New Orleans Mint, which had reopened in 1879, struck half
eagles in limited quantities. In 1906, the Denver Mint opened for production.
In 1894 when Augustus Heaton produced his Mint Marks treatise, he
could not find a single person who collected $5, $10, and $20 coins by
The result today is that nearly all Mint-marked half eagles of the
early years range from rare to extremely rare in Mint State.
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