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The Act of March 3, 1865, which authorized coinage of shield nickels and issue of certain classes of interest-bearing Treasury notes, also ordered that henceforth all U.S. coins large enough to provide room for the motto IN GOD WE TRUST should bear those words. The Mint took this to mean the half eagle, eagle, double eagle, and all silver denominations larger than the dime. Two prototype (?) proof sets of the gold denominations were coined with motto and date 1865, possibly for Mint Director Linderman in 1867-68. Regular coinage followed in 1866 after the Secretary of Treasury approved Longa-cre's layout.
When collectors and dealers speak of "Liberty head half eagles" or "common gold fives" without other designation, they invariably mean only this type with motto. Most familiar of all U.S. gold below the $20 denomination, coins of this type were issued in enormous quantities (larger overall than all previous designs together). A common display item is a set of half eagles from all seven mints (the only denomination struck by them all); the three Southern coins will normally be of Coronet design without motto, the other four of the present type. So large were the mintages that even the Dahlonega and Carson City coins will not provide major difficulty unless one wishes mint-state examples. (But the vast majority from any mint, before 1879, will grade VF; some S- and CC-Mint coins are unknown in mint state.)
Except for 1873, even Philadelphia coins are rare prior to 1878. Until that year, specie payments were still suspended, gold was hoarded, and paper currency circulated instead, with the same goods or services on a two-tier pricing system: Prices were always quoted higher in greenbacks than in gold. Mintages in 1873 were large because the Treasury deposited quantities of worn-out and obsolete gold pieces for recoinage. Some dates are more often seen in proof state (generally impaired) than as business strikes, notably 1869, 1875, 1876, and possibly 1877. Later years 1878-1907 (except for the proof-only 1887 Philadelphia) constitute much of the bulk of "common gold," which is more often hoarded than collected, irrespective of date and mint-mark. This hoarding practice delayed discovery of the obvious 1881/0 overdate for generations, because until recent years nobody had bothered to examine common gold more closely than sufficed to establish its genuineness.
San Francisco issued much more gold than Philadelphia for much of the period 1866-77. Nevertheless these early S-Mint coins are all scarce, some rare, and all very rare in mint state.
Carson City issues were limited for political reasons by orders from Mint Director Henry R. Linderman; Nevada bullion preferentially went to San Francisco. The excuse of limited output in turn was urged as reason to close the Carson branch, in 1885-88 and again for good in 1893. Because in 1872-73 it made some debased lightweight coins, Superintendent H. F. Rice was fired; he could have been executed. Distrust of CC coins led to routine testing; many survivors show edge test marks.
Limited New Orleans issues [136,600 total] reflect economic conditions in the postwar South: Little gold reached this branch mint for coinage of any denomination.
After the official resumption of specie payments (1878), the Treasury paid out immense numbers of half eagles to redeem worn-out greenbacks, National Bank notes, and interest-bearing notes. The coins eventually found their way into banks' cash reserves, many overseas; Lentex Corporation and other importers in the 1950s and '60s retrieved many from French and Swiss banks. With occasional exceptions like 1887-90 Philadelphia and 1892 O, most dates 1880-1907 are available for a price in or near mint state with the usual bag marks; business strikes free of nicks and scratches are rare.
Proofs 1866-1907 are rarer than their mintages suggest; many survivors are impaired. Those of 1880-86 are often nicked and scratched because the Medal Clerk at the Philadelphia Mint mishandled them (Breen {1977}, p. 182). Later ones were spent in depression years (1893, 1904, 1921, 1929-33) prior to the 1934 recall of gold.
The 1908 has long been rumored to exist in brilliant proof state, but this coin has remained unavailable for examination. In the ANS 1914 Exhibition, William H. Woodin displayed a group of proof Liberty head half eagles 1866-1908 inclusive. This might have been a typographical error, but then Morgen-thau 382:300 (11/16/37) specifically described a 1908 "old type" in brilliant proof, as did Farouk:264. Considering in what haste the "Palace Collections of Egypt" had to be cataloged, it is entirely possible that a regular UNC. 1908 was mistakenly included with a group of proofs; but it is also possible that Farouk had the Woodin and/or Morgenthau coin.
Designer, Christian Gobrecht, obv. after Benjamin West, rev. after John Reich and William Kneass; motto scroll by James Barton Longacre. Engravers, Longacre, William Barber, Charles E. Barber. Mints, Philadelphia (no mintmark), New Orleans (mintmark O), San Francisco (S), Carson City (CC), Denver (D). Mintmark below eagle. Composition, gold 90%, silver not over 5%, rest copper. Weight 129 0.5 grs. = 8.24 0.032 gms. Reeded edge. Diameter, n/zo" = 21.65 mm. Authorizing Acts, Jan. 18, 1837; March 3, 1865; Feb. 12, 1873.
Grade range, POOR to UNC.; not collected below VERY FINE except for some extreme rarities. Grade standards, as before, except that for FINE expect complete but barely legible motto; for VERY FINE, full clear motto. These standards are in addition to those for 1839-66, not instead of them. NOTE: Beware coins showing any traces of solder removal.
1871 CC 71 about touch. [20,770] Rare. Date slants down to r.; Usually in low grades; prohibitively rare EF. UNC.


US Rare Coin Investments 2003 - 2015 U.S. Rare Coin Investments

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