After receiving instructions from Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, mint officials experimented with several mottos. After a succession of patterns in various metals and denominations were struck using mottos such as "God Our Trust" and "God And Our Country," the adopted motto IN GOD WE TRUST was first placed upon the new two-cent piece of 1864.
The contemporary half eagle coin minted since 1839 and in use at the end of the war had been designed by Mint Engraver Christian Gobrecht. Gobrecht's Coronet Liberty was a modified version of the John Reich/William Kneass "Classic Head" that had been in production since 1834. Liberty is depicted as thinner and more delicate than on the previous version. She is wearing a tiara engraved with the inscription LIBERTY, and her hair is tied in a bun with a string of beads. Thirteen stars surround the bust with the date positioned below. The reverse shows an eagle with outstretched wings, Union shield on its breast, perched on an olive branch and holding three arrows in its left claw. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and the denomination FIVE D. encircle the eagle just inside the beaded border. In 1866, Gobrecht's successor as Chief Engraver, James Longacre, added the new motto IN GOD WE TRUST to a scroll placed above the eagle's head.
In the years following the motto's debut on the half eagle, the suspension of specie payments initiated during the war continued, precluding the need for large mintages of gold coins. Half eagles were made in relatively small numbers and hoarded along with the previous issues. When specie payments resumed in 1878, the half eagles were a convenient coin to redeem the large number of greenbacks still in circulation. By 1880 huge quantities were being made. More than 51,500,000 regular issue Coronet half eagles with motto were minted between 1866 and 1908, with the majority produced during the last 25 years or so of the design's life. Only 2,938 proofs were made, with annual mintages ranging from 20 to 50 pieces in the early years to as many as 230 pieces in 1900.
The mintage was large enough so that almost every date after 1878 is available, many in gem condition. Although most type collectors seek just one example each of the "no motto" and "with motto" types, a very popular collection is a set of Coronet half eagles from every mint. All would be "with motto" except the issues from the three southern mints, which generally would be "no motto" coins minted before the Civil War. The Coronet half eagle is unique in this respect, as it is the only coin struck at all seven mints-Philadelphia (no mintmark), Charlotte (C), Dahlonega (D), New Orleans (O), San Francisco (S), Carson City (CC) and Denver (D). Mintmarks can be found beneath the eagle.
When grading this series, check for signs of wear on the hair above the eyebrow to the top of the coronet. Check also the hair strands on the very top of Liberty's head and on the ringlets of hair just above the neckline. Look for wear on the wing tips, claws and neck of the eagle. The ribbon and motto don't exhibit evidence of wear until the coin is worn to the grade of Very Fine.
Diameter: 21.6 millimeters
Weight: 8.359 grams
Composition: .900 gold, .100 copper
Net Weight: .24187 ounce pure gold
Courtesy Numismatic Guarantee Corp. (NGC).
LIBERTY HEAD (MOTTO ON REVERSE) $5 OR HALF EAGLE (1866-1908)
Heritage Auctions' Quote: "Before the Lincoln cent obverse began its 98-year-long (and counting) run, the longevity of the Gobrecht gold design was the benchmark by which other designs were measured. Though the design was on its way out by the time this example was struck in 1903, it had lasted for more than six decades since its first appearance on the half eagle in 1839".