Know your U.S. coins: Classic Head $5 half eagle

The Classic Head $5 gold half eagle was issued between 1834 and 1838.

Images courtesy of PCGS CoinFacts

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.

COIN VALUES: See how much your Classic Head $5 half eagle is worth today 

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 its talons.

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:


Half dollars:


Gold coins:

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