The Workhorse of the Early American Banking System: Half Eagles, Part Two

Half Eagles, or five dollars gold pieces as there are often called, were the workhorse of the early American banking system, as there were so very few quarter eagles manufactured. In fact, of the roughly 2.3 million gold coins made by the United States Mint between the years of 1795 and 1834, 2.1 million were half eagles, or 91 percent of the total production of our mint.

There are five major series of half eagles: Draped Bust Small Eagle; Draped Bust Large (or Heraldic) Eagle; Capped Bust Left; Capped Head Left Large Size; and Capped Head Left Small Size. The first two series were discussed in the first part of this article.

Half Eagles 1807-1834

The Half Eagle series continues with three different types beginning in 1807 and ending in 1834. The first is the Caped Bust Left Half Eagle Type; 25 millimeters in diameter with a weight of 135 grains of 0.9167 fine gold alloyed with copper. It comes with a reeded edge and was designed by John Reich and struck at the Philadelphia mint.

There were almost 400,000 made of this type in eleven date variations. While every date is a condition rarity just like the previous Draped Bust Type, no particular date is technically more than Scarce in the lower grades; all are regularly available for those few who are willing to pay the price of a genuinely rare and collectable coin, which as a rule comes well struck with good eye appeal. Nearly 2,800 survive in all grades certified, which gives us a survival rate of just over one half of one percent, and about half of those are Uncirculated, implying that they were saved as souvenirs at the time in no greater number than any of the other early gold coins. As a type, there are extremely rare to uncollectible in the gem grades, which always bring multiples of bids and sell quickly when they are occasionally available.

The second type is the Capped Head Left Large Size Type, which has all the same technical specifications as the previous type. Starting in 1813 and manufactured until 1829, this series sports as many or more rarities by date than any other gold series, and perhaps, any other United States coin series as well. No half eagles were struck in either 1816 or 1817 due to a fire in the mints rolling mill, where the planchets were made. There are at least eight uncollectible dates in this series in any grade. There is a total mintage of nearly 670,000 for all dates, or which there are 1,200 certified survivors in all grades, or a survival rate of nearly two percent, of which 775 are Uncirculated, or one tenth of one percent.

The third and last type of half eagle is the capped Head Left Small size type, made between 1829 and 1834 on a smaller 22.5-millimeter planchet proportionally thicker to maintain the weight. This new smaller type were made with a close collar—the “third’ die—a then-recent minting innovation for speeding up production and standardization of coin manufacture. While the weight of one hundred thirty-five grains of 0.9167 fine gold alloyed with copper remains the same, the hubs for the newly designed head is probably by William Kneass and all are struck at the Philadelphia mint. There was a total mintage of just over 700,000 coins made, of which only 205 are certified in all grades, a survival rate of three-one-thousandths, not much. There are 10 date varieties recognized on this type, and all are rare in all grades, and all are uncollectible in the Gem Uncirculated grades.

These three Capped Head types have a total mintage of 1.8 million, with a total of 4,100 certified survivors, of two percent. This accounts for 78 percent of all the early gold coins of all dates and all denominations made between 1795 and 1834 making them the “common” type of the entire early gold series.

Capped Bust Left Type 1807-1812

1807: With a total mintage of 51,000 and 472 examples certified in all grades, of which 225 survive in Uncirculated condition, the 1807 is tied with the 1810 Large Date Large 5 as the most “common” date of this type. 1808 has a survival rate of almost one percent in all grades. Extremely Scarce but a collectable one percent survival rate.

1808: With a total mintage of 32,000 and 345 examples certified in all grades, of which 153 survive in Uncirculated condition, making the 1808 the fourth most “common” date of the type, with a one-percent survival rate. There are also 15 gems certified of the 1808, making it the only date with a reasonable possibility to find a gem example for sale occasionally. Extremely Scarce.

1808/7: Overdate with a total mintage of 23,000 and 81 examples certified in all grades, of which 36 survive in Uncirculated condition, one of which is a gem. This overdate is the forth rarest date in the type, with just a third of one percent surviving at all. Rare.

1809/8: Another overdate with a total mintage of 34,000 and 330 examples certified in all grades, of which 170 survive in Uncirculated condition. The 9/8 is collectible in all grades including gem, if you are willing to pay for the condition rarity that it is with a one-percent survival rate. Hans M. F. Schulman had an amassing gem that I believe he sold to Abe Kosoff when I worked for him in 1968. The gems make this the second most “common” date of the type. Extremely Scarce.

1810 Small Date Small 5: All the 1810 varieties have an estimated total mintage of around 100,000, but each variety of this date has an unknown exact mintage. Dannruther is working out this question as we write. Akers knew of no Uncirculated examples and called this date rare in 1975, since then there are 12 examples certified in all grades of which three are Uncirculated, none of which are better than MS62. There are no Gem Uncirculated or Proof coins known or rumored, making this the second rarest date of the type. Rare.

1810 Small Date Large 5: With an unknown mintage, there are 129 examples of this rare coin certified in all grades, of which 76 are Uncirculated. Rare.

1810 Large Date Small 5: With an unknown mintage estimated by Dannruther at between 2,000 and 3,000 made of two different die pairings, there are nine examples of this rare coin certified in all grades, two of which are Uncirculated. Akers, Dannreuther and DiGenova consider this date rarer than the population reports show. This is, in my opinion, the rarest date of the type. Extremely Rare.

1810 Large Date Large 5: Again, with an unknown but undoubtedly large original mintage, there are 460 examples certified of this date making it the second most “common” date of the type. There are also 283 examples in Uncirculated and six of those are gem. Extremely Scarce.

1811 Small 5: With an estimated mintage of 55,000, there are 348 certified survivors in all grades, making this date the fourth most “common” date of the type. Scarce.

1811 Large 5: Again with an estimated mintage of 45,000, there are just 69 examples certified in all grades. This is the third-rarest date of the type, with a survival rate of just one percent. There are 37 Uncirculated examples, of which three are Gem. Less than one percent survives. Scarce.

1812: With a mintage of 58,000, there are 425 examples certified in all grades, making this date the third most “common” date of the type. There are 266 Uncirculated pieces, of which 15 are Gem, making this date expensive but collectable on the rare occasions that an example is available for sale as less than one percent survive. Scarce.

Capped Head Left Large Size Type 1813-1829

1813: With a mintage of 95,500 and 541 examples certified in all grades, this is as close to “common” date as the type allows. There are 325 examples that are Uncirculated of which seven are called Gem, for a total survival rate of one half of one percent, or the most “common” date of the type. Pretty common, with less than one percent surviving. Rare.

1814/3: Overdate with a mintage of 15,500 and 98 examples certified in all grades, for a survival rate of seven-tenths of one percent, or the second most “common” date of the type. There are 62 Uncirculated examples and none of them are Gem, with again less than one percent surviving. Rare.

1815: With a mintage of 635 and eight examples certified in all grades. Dannreuther notes that four examples are impounded in museums. There are four certified called Uncirculated and one Gem. Akers estimated 12 or 13 examples extent, which is probably closer to the actual population than the grading services population reports. The only one I ever saw was owned by Stanley Kesselman in 1976. Extremely Rare to Uncollectible.

1818: With an estimated mintage of 21,000 and 74 examples certified in all grades. Dannreuther explained to me that this population number is incorrect because neither grading services recognized the difference between the 1818 Normal Date and the 1818 5D/50 until a couple of years ago, skewing the numbers and making the Normal date appear more common then it is. Rare in all grades, according to both Dannreuther and DiGenova.

1818 5D/50: With an estimated mintage of 22,000 and 14 examples certified in all grades, for a non survival rate of six-tenths of one percent, and only seven in Uncirculated.
At best, extremely rare, at worst, uncollectible.

1818 STATESOF: With an estimated mintage of 7,500 and 78 examples certified in all grades makes this date Rare. Sixty-four Uncirculated examples certified makes this rarity occasionally available to those who buy aggressively. Less than one percent survives today.

1819: With an estimated mintage of 300, this is one of the famous rarities of the type. Only three examples have been certified in all grades, so you can basically kiss this one goodbye.

1819 5D/50: With a mintage of just over 51,000, there are only 15 examples certified in all grades, for a glorious survival rate of three thousandths of one percent. Only six Uncirculated pieces makes this date Extremely Rare to Uncollectible.

1820 Curved 2 Small Letters: With a mintage of 263,000 for the three types of 1820, and a certified population of four in all grades of the Curved 2 Small Letters, all of which are Uncirculated. Akers noted in 1975 that this date was available in higher grades, and also noted the existence of a Proof in the 1956 Melish Sale, which has never been certified.

1820 Curved 2 Large Letters: With an unknown mintage and a certified population of five in all grades, all of which are Uncirculated. Akers notes the existence of two Proofs. The best 1820 I ever saw James Halpern had in 1978.

1820 Square 2: All Square 2 half eagles have large letters on the reverse. With an unknown mintage, but large, at least a quarter of a million or whatever it was, and a certified population of 95 in all grades, of which 84 are Uncirculated, 10 are Gems and one a Proof. Akers notes three Proofs. Possibly the second most “common” coin of this type. Scarce.

1821: With an incorrect mintage of 34,000 noted and a certified population of 13 in all grades, of which six of which are Uncirculated. Dannreuther notes that most of the mintage was dated 1820 and the Square 2 variety, this coin is way rarer than the “mintage” would suggest. A lone Gem is out there somewhere. Rare.

1822: With another incorrect mintage of nearly 18,000 noted, of which Dannreuther also remarks that they were mostly 1820 dated coins, and at most possibly 500 were actually dated with the year they were made, 1822. A certified population of none in all grades. Three are known, two of which are in the National Collection, and the other one sold in 1982 in the Eliasberg sale for $687,000 to Mr. Pogue. This date is considered the most famous date of the entire gold series, including the 1933 Double Eagle, and possibly the single most desirable US gold coin ever struck. Uncollectible.

1823: With a mintage of 15,000 and a certified population of 53 in all grades, of which 33 are Uncirculated. This is the forth most “common” date of the type. A gem exists and Akers notes there may have been a Proof that hasn’t shown its head since 1885. Scarce, with less than one percent surviving.

1824: With a mintage of just over 17,000 and a certified population of 37 in all grades, of which 22 are Uncirculated and two are Gem, and Akers notes a single Proof. Rare, with less than one percent surviving.

1825/1: Overdate with an estimated mintage of 17,500 of and a certified population of 16 in all grades, of which nine are Uncirculated. Akers notes a couple of Proofs. Rare.

1825/4: Rare overdate with an estimated mintage of 2,500 and a certified population of two in all grades, of which one is are Uncirculated. One was in the Eliasberg Collection and the other in the Kaufman Collection. Extremely Rare and Uncollectible.

1826: With a mintage of 18,000 and a certified population of 19 in all grades, all of which are Uncirculated. Akers notes a Proof. One percent surviving, thus Rare.

1827: With a mintage of nearly 25,000 and a certified population of 28 in all grades, of which 16 are Uncirculated, three of which are Gem. Again less than one percent are still with us. Rare.

1828: With an estimated mintage of 20,000 and a certified population of 11 in all grades, of which six are Uncirculated, way less than one percent, three of which are Gem. Akers was correct in 1975 when he compared the 1828 with the 1815, the rarity being similar. Akers also notes a couple of Proofs. Extremely Rare.

1828/7: Overdate with an estimated mintage of about 8,000 and a certified population of five in all grades, of which four are Uncirculated. As Akers points out, this date is actually rarer than the 1815, with no where near one percent surviving.

1829: With a mintage of 25,000 and a certified population of four in all grades, of which all are Uncirculated. Extremely Rare, and again, no where near one percent survive.

Capped Bust Small Size Type 1829-1834

1829: With a mintage of 32,000, of which there are certified eight in all grades, and all eight are Uncirculated, one of which is a Gem, for a survival rate of two-tenths of one percent. For some reason the “9” is larger than all the other number in the date. There is one Proof certified and another in the National Collection. Extremely Rare.

1830 Small 5D: With an estimated mintage of about 63,000, of which there are certified 31 in all grades, and of those 24 in Uncirculated. Only one half of one percent still with us. Rare.

1830 Large 5D: With a mintage of estimated at 63,000, of which there are five certified in all grades, four of which are in Uncirculated. There is one Gem and one Proof certified. Akers correctly estimated the surviving population in 1975, so his assumption that there are other Proofs is also probably correct. Rare.

1831: With a mintage of 140,000-plus, of which there are 20 certified in all grades, and six of those are Uncirculated. 1831 comes with both a Large 5D, estimated mintage of 25,000 or more, and Small 5D, estimated mintage of 100,000 or more, just like the 1830, and noted by both Akers and Dannreuther, but the grading services do not distinguish between the two so neither can we on our own census. Rare.

1832 12 Stars Obverse: With an estimated mintage of 2,500, of which there are three certified in all grades, two of which are Uncirculated. Akers lists six by owner in 1975. Extremely Rare, with one-tenth of one percent surviving at all.

1832 13 Stars Obverse: With a mintage estimated at 155,000, of which there are certified 34 in all grades, and 27 of those are in Uncirculated, for a survival rate of two-tenths of one percent. Rare.

1833 Large Date: With an estimated mintage of about 96,000, of which there are certified 31 examples in all grades, of which 21 are Uncirculated and eight are Proof. The hub has been modified this year with a slightly more pronounced head. Rare.

1833 Small Date: Also with a mintage estimated at about 96,000, of which there are certified eight in all grades, seven in Uncirculated. Rare.

1834 Plain 4: With a mintage of 50,000 for both varieties, there are certified 33 examples of the Plain 4 in all grades, of which 14 are Uncirculated. Akers notes there are no Gem or Proof coins, which is borne out by this census. Just over one-half of one percent survives in any grade and thus Rare.

1834 Cross 4: With part of the mintage of the Plain 4, the Cross 4 has 15 certified survivors in all grades, or which 12 are Uncirculated. Rare.

Silvano DiGenova is a WorthPoint Worthologist specializing in coins. Neil Berman contributed to this article.

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