USA Coin Album: Little Known Gold Coin Varieties

Posted on 4/12/2022

Half Eagles offer a very fertile field for variety collecting.

In the third installment of my series on gold coin varieties that are not broadly known the focus is on Half Eagles, which offer a very fertile field for variety collecting. As the most useful denomination for general commerce, the five-dollar piece was minted in large numbers for most of its production. The only slowdowns occurred during the years 1814-33, when the bullion value of these coins exceeded their face value, and again during the 1860s-70s, when a similar situation arose from the issuance of unredeemable paper money that quickly depreciated.

Early United States gold coins, those issued before August 1, 1834, have been collected by varieties for generations. The rarity of such coins, however, limits the number of participants. The Classic Head gold pieces (struck 1834-38) have only recently become attractive to variety collectors, because until 2020 no good book on that subject existed.

Now, with all the varieties illustrated in Darryl Haynor’s United States Classic Gold Coins of 1834-1839, the series has been brought into the spotlight. The easiest rarity to spot among the Half Eagles is the 1834 with Crosslet 4, HM-9 (Haynor-McCloskey numbering). All but one of the nine die marriages known for that date have a Plain 4, and the Crosslet 4 variety brings a substantial premium in any grade.

1834 $5 Crosslet 4 HM-9
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As a general rule, varieties found on rare date/mint combinations do not add much value, since the coins’ worth is already quite high. For common dates, however, cherrypicking varieties can be quite rewarding, and the Coronet Liberty Half Eagles of 1839-1908 offer many issues that are readily available. Their higher mintages also required a greater number of dies and therefore increased the chances of some irregularity occurring during the die making process.

A good example is the 1854(P) half eagle with doubled-die obverse (DDO, FS-101). This doubling is most visible at Liberty’s ear (which appears to have a ring suspended from it) and the adjacent hair curl. Another great variety not yet in The Cherrypickers’ Guide but is attributed by NGC as VP-001 features the top of an errant numeral 1 within the denticles below the coin’s date, 1855. This type of variety is known as a misplaced date (MPD).

1854 $5 FS-101
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1855 $5 MPD VP-001
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When the greenback paper notes issued by the United States Treasury during the Civil War finally achieved value parity with gold coins in 1879, mintages of the latter rose dramatically. More than five million Half Eagles were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1881, and this date is the most bountiful hunting ground for varieties in the entire Coronet Liberty series.

There are no fewer than five listings in The Cherrypickers’ Guide, one for an 1881/0 overdate (OVD, FS-301) and the remainder for repunched dates (RPD, FS-302, -303, -304, -305). In addition, NGC has identified three more RPD varieties as VP-001, -002 and -003)! The premiums on most of these are not that high, but they are quite popular and still may be picked off unattributed by a keen-eyed collector.

1881 $5 OVD FS-301
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1881 $5 RPD FS-303
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1881 $5 RPD FS-304
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1881 $5 RPD VP-002
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Some other varieties attributed by NGC and seemingly not listed elsewhere include a trio of RPDs: 1901 VP-001, 1903-S VP-001 and 1907 VP-001.

1901 $5 RPD VP-001
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1903-S $5 RPD VP-001
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1907 $5 RPD VP-001
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Though the technology utilized for die-making in the Indian Head half eagle series of 1908-29 precluded repunched dates, mintmarks were still added to each die by hand. This resulted in a pair of repunched mintmarks (RPM) for 1911-S: FS-501 and FS-502 (the first of these was discovered at NGC more than 20 years ago and assigned an FS number at that time). NGC’s customers frequently submit new varieties for attribution as part of the grading process, and several of these are now illustrated in the VarietyPlus guide.

1911-S $5 RPM FS-501
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1911-S $5 RPM FS-502
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David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

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