One does not tread lightly into the field of collecting early U.S. gold coins, those generally minted in the years between 1795 and 1834. The average collector in this area must have substantial funds available. It also helps to be an astute numismatist -- or at the very least, to work with dealers and advisers who are astute numismatists.
Nonetheless, the specialty of early U.S. gold collecting is among the most rewarding in American numismatics. Each of the three gold denominations minted in the early years -- the quarter eagle, half eagle, and eagle -- have their own individual stamps, shaped by the character of commerce, finance, and Mint history of the time.
The quarter eagles were the red-headed stepchildren of early Mint history, made in small quantities at sporadic intervals, usually seldom-seen in actual commercial use. The half eagles, on the other hand, were made almost continuously in much larger quantities during the 1795-1834 timeframe, in fact, they were the first gold coins manufactured at the U.S. Mint. They were a workhorse denomination, along with their counterparts, the copper large cent and silver half dollar. Between these three federal denominations and especially the foreign currency in general circulation, most everyday transactions were concluded.
The eagles are a special case, the shortest denomination and the largest early U.S. gold, made only from 1796 through 1804 (one variety was struck in 1834-35), although no 1802-dated eagles were produced. Like the quarter eagles, they were struck in relatively small quantities. A date set of early eagles consists of only eight coins, although a variety set -- not for the faint of heart -- would include 33 die marriages, some extremely rare.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.