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The Half Eagle is a United States coin that was produced
for circulation from 1795 to 1929, and in commemorative and bullion
coins since the 1980's. Composed almost entirely of gold, it has
a face value of five dollars. Its production was authorized by The
Act of April 2, 1792, and it was the first gold coin minted by the
United States. Its 1800 purchasing power would be equivalent to
have $5 Gold Liberty Half Eagle Coin from 1880. Philadelphia Mint.
The design and composition of the half eagle changed many times
over the years, but it was originally designed by Robert Scot. At
this time the coin contained .9167 gold and .0833 copper and silver.
It had a diameter of approximately 25 mm, a weight of 8.75 grams,
and a reeded edge. The obverse design, or "Turban Head",
depicted a capped portrait of Liberty facing to the right. The reverse
depicted a small eagle. This type was produced from 1795 to 1798.
Simultaneously, another type was minted that depicted a larger heraldic
eagle on the reverse with the inscription "E PLURIBUS UNUM".
This type was produced through 1807.
From 1807 to 1812, a new type designed by John Reich was produced,
the "Draped Bust", featuring a round-capped Liberty facing
left on the obverse and a modified eagle on the reverse. For the
first time, the value "5 D." was placed on the reverse
of the coin to indicate its value. In 1813 a modified version of
the Draped Bust was introduced, removing much of the bustline and
giving Liberty an overall larger appearance. This design which would
last through 1834. Another modification occurred in 1829 when the
diameter of the coin was reduced slightly to 23.8 mm, although the
overall design remained unchanged.
Classic Head Design
By 1834, the gold in the half eagle had been worth more than its
face value for several years. The Act of June 28, 1834 called for
a reduction in the gold used. The weight of the coin was reduced
to 8.36 grams, the diameter reduced to 22.5 mm, and the composition
changed to .8992 gold and .1008 silver and copper. A new obverse,
the "Classic Head", was created by William Kneass for
the altered coin. The reverse still depicted the modified eagle
introduced in 1813, but "E PLURIBUS UNUM" was removed
to distinguish further the new composition. In 1837, the gold content
of this type was increased to .900 in accordance with the Act of
January 18, 1837.
Liberty Head Design
In 1839 the coin was redesigned again. The new obverse was designed
by Christian Gobrecht and is known as the "Libery Head or "Coronet
head". The reverse design remained largely the same, although
the value was changed from "5 D." to "Five D.".
For those struck at the Philidephia Mint, there was no longer any
silver in the coin, its composition was now .900 gold and .100 copper.
However, gold ore used at the southern branch mints of Charlotte
and Dahlonega had a high natural silver content, and many of these
coins contained up to five percent silver. Its weight was virtually
the same, 8.359 grams, but the diameter was reduced one final time,
to 21.6 mm,
in 1840. This design was used for nearly 70 years, from 1839 to
1908, with a modest change in 1866, when "In God We Trust"
was placed on the reverse above the eagle. It holds the distinction
of being the only coin of a single design to be minted at seven
U.S. Mints: Philadelphia, Dahlonega, Charlotte, New Orleans, San
Francisco, Carson City, and Denver.
Indian Head Design
In 1908, the final type, designed by Bela Lyon Pratt, was first
produced. The composition, weight, and diameter of the coin remained
unchanged, but both the obverse and reverse were drastically altered.
The new design matched the new quarter eagle design of the same
two series are unique in United States coinage because the design
and inscriptions are stamped in incuse, rather than being raised
from the surface, meaning that the flat surfaces are the highest
points of the coin. The obverse depicted an Indian head wearing
a feathered headdress. The reverse depicted a perched eagle with
the inscriptions "E PLURIBUS UNUM" and "IN GOD WE
TRUST". Production of the half eagle was suspended during World
War I and not resumed until 1929, the final year of issue.
The $5 denomination has the distinction of being the only denomination
for which coins were minted at all eight US mints. Prior to 1838
all half eagles were minted in Philadelphia because there were no
other operating mints. In 1838, the Charlotte Mint, and the Dahlonega
Mint produced half eagles of the Coronet type in their first years
of operation, and would continue to mint half eagles until 1861,
their last year of operation. The New Orleans Mint minted half eagles
from 1840 to 1861. The San Francisco Mint first produced half eagles
in 1854, its first year of operation, as did Carson City in 1870,
and Denver in 1906.
Although circulating half eagle production was discontinued in 1929,
half eagle commemorative and $5 denominated (1/10 ounce) bullion
coins were minted at West Point starting in the late twentieth-century.
Proof coins were produced at Philadelphia from 1859 on.
List of designs
Turban Head 1795–1807
Turban Head, Small Eagle 1795–1798
Turban Head, Large Eagle 1795–1807
Draped Bust 1807–1812
Capped Head 1813–1834
Classic Head 1834–1838
Liberty Head (Coronet) 1839–1907
Coronet, without motto 1839–1866
Coronet, with motto 1866–1908
Indian Head 1908–1916, 1929