Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Significant examples

Classic Head Half Eagles 1834-1838

The Classic Head design was prepared by engraver William Kneas. The new Classic Head design had a tousle-haired Liberty facing left, her thick and curly locks confined by a headband inscribed LIBERTY. The date was placed below and a circle of 13 stars surrounded the handsome, youthful head. The reverse continued the raised-wing eagle of the previous issue, surrounded by the inscriptions UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and 5 D. Congress recommended identifying the new coins by placing the date AUGUST 1, 1834 on each, but Moore preferred omitting the scroll with E PLURIBUS UNUM used since 1807.

Kneass' concept never seemed to fully satisfy Mint officials, and some minor but continuous changes appeared throughout the series' run. As Kneass faded into ill health and reduced activity, Christian Gobrecht tinkered further with the design in 1836.

Over 2.1 million Classic Head half eagles were struck between 1834 and 1838, nearly all at the Philadelphia Mint. In 1838, new branch mints began operations at Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia. These coins have their distinctive mint marks on the obverse over the date. Charlotte (C) placed its mint mark on 17,179 coins. The entire output of Dahlonega (D) comprised only 20,583 pieces.

The severely limited mintages of Charlotte and Dahlonega have always attracted collectors, especially after publication of Augustus C. Heaton's 1893 treatise on collecting by mint marks. Although Philadelphia half eagles were struck and circulated in adequate numbers, mint state examples of any date are highly elusive to very rare.

The "key" date of the series is 1838-C, difficult to find in any grade and equal in rarity to many pre-1834 issues. Even more elusive is the scarcest variety of the series, the 1834 Crosslet 4-trailed closely by the 1838 Dahlonega coin, another "stopper" in mint state. A minuscule number of proofs exist of the Philadelphia dates, perhaps as many as 12 examples for 1834, three of 1835, two of 1836, and one each of 1837 and 1838 (the 1837 specimen is in the Smithsonian). Such coins are extremely rare and have appeared only in one or two of the great "name" auctions in recent years.

Courtesy Numismatic Guarantee Corp. (NGC).


Diameter: 22.5 millimeters

Weight: 8.36 grams

Composition: .8992 gold, .1008 copper

Edge: Reeded

Net Weight: .24168 ounce pure gold

Mint Mark: None for Philadelphia, 'D' for Dahlonega and 'C' for Charlotte.