Liberty Head $5 (1839-1908)
Robert Scot's Draped Bust Liberty Half Eagle debuted in 1795 as the first federal gold coin issued. The original Small Eagle reverse was replaced with the Heraldic Eagle type in 1797. Learn More...
Liberty Head $5 (1839-1908)
Robert Scot's Draped Bust Liberty Half Eagle debuted in 1795 as the first federal gold coin issued. The original Small Eagle reverse was replaced with the Heraldic Eagle type in 1797. Some coins of this second type are known bearing the date 1795, but these are backdated pieces struck to avoid wasting a still useable obverse die carrying the obsolete date. In a similar economy measure, a small handful of 1798-dated half eagles were struck with the old Small Eagle reverse. See the accompanying table to determine which of the many varieties are attributed at no additional cost and which ones require payment of the $12 VarietyPlus fee.
The Capped Bust type of 1807-12 bears a portrait of Liberty quite similar to that on the half dollars of those years, and this portrait was truncated in 1813-34 for a style known as the Capped Head. Most of these coins saw little if any domestic circulation, as shifting bullion prices had made them worth more than face value. Adoption of close collar technology in 1829 prompted a slight reduction in diameter concurrent with an increase in thickness, and this date is know in both versions.
The five-dollar piece was consistently the most useful gold denomination in general circulation, and this fact is reflected in consistently higher mintages than for other gold coins before 1834. The greater number of dies needed for such production resulted in more varieties, as well. While there are few collectors of United States gold coins by varieties, the various die marriages of these early issues are nevertheless well documented. At present, however, there isn't enough demand for NGC to attribute pre-1834 issues by numeric varieties, and only their basic "Red Book" descriptions are used. Most of these are attributed by NGC within the normal course of grading. Only a few require payment of the VarietyPlus fee, and these are identified in the table below.
The weight reduction which became effective August 1, 1834 permitted USA gold coins to circulate freely after more than 20 years of being hoarded or exported for their bullion value. William Kneass created the Classic Head Liberty that year to denote this new standard. Coinage of the half eagle was very heavy for most of the next century, with the exception of the 1860s-70s, when the depreciated federal paper money drove them from circulation. Christian Gobrecht's Coronet Head Liberty Half Eagle of 1839-1908 was a familiar sight, particularly in the West, and worn examples are common. With a growing interest in die-punching varieties, NGC now recognizes many such issues under its VarietyPlus Service. These include all or most Cherrypicker varieties, as well as additional varieties labeled by NGC with its own VP numbering system. Such varieties are cross-referenced to Walter Breen's Encyclopedia wherever applicable.
The Indian Head Half Eagle series of 1908-29 saw greater standardization in the die-making process, with the only variable henceforth being the mintmark. A few repunched mintmark varieties are known for this series, and more are likely to turn up as collectors show increased interest in gold coin varieties. All such varieties attributed by NGC are done so under its VarietyPlus Service.