Mint Engraver Christian Gobrecht developed the
Coronet type gold coin
for the purpose of replacing the Classic Head design. The $10 Eagle
began carrying the new design in 1838.
In keeping with Mint tradition of uniformity, the $5 Half Eagle and the
$2.50 Quarter Eagle transitioned to the Coronet type in 1839 and 1840
In drawing Miss Liberty, Gobrecht was guided by
the ancient Greco-Roman
influence. Liberty faces left, her hair tied in a bun, held in place by
a string of beads. She wears a coronet (a type of small crown),
inscribed with the word LIBERTY.
As the nation was ripped asunder by the American
Civil War beginning in 1861, a religious fervor swept over the land
as ordinary people in ever increasing numbers sent prayers to the
Almighty for safe guidance through those extraordinarily difficult
times. That sentiment led to the placement of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST
on the two
cent piece of 1864. On March 3, 1865, Congress mandated the motto
be placed “on all coins able to accommodate it”.
While This Coin Was Minted...
Greenbacks were issued beginning in early 1862 by the US
government. Greenbacks were not redeemable in gold or silver, so
their value to the public was based on the perceived solvency of the
federal government. Thus, when battlefield results soured, the value of
Greenbacks plunged to as low as 40% of their face value. When the Union
Army fared better, Greenbacks were valued as high as 70%. By war's end,
almost $450 million in Greenbacks were in circulation. A great
political battle ensued over how and when to retire the Greenbacks.
On January 14, 1875, Congress passed the Resumption Act. Under the provisions of this act, the Treasury Secretary was ordered to redeem in coin Greenbacks presented for exchange on or after January 1, 1879. In anticipation of greater demand for gold coinage, the Mint dramatically ramped up production of half eagles. From 1878 to 1882, an average of nearly 3 million half eagles were produced annually, compared to less than 250,000 a year from 1839-1877.
It comes as no surprise that over a 69 year production period, there are many rare, key dates within the Coronet Half Eagle series. The coins from the Dahlonega and Charlotte branch mints exist in very limited quantities, and are desirable acquisitions for any numismatist. The most significant of these is the 1861-D, whose historical connotations rank high because some of them were struck by the Confederacy at the onset of the Civil War. In fact, just about all half eagle dates struck during that epic conflict are quite scarce; because of the aforementioned widespread hoarding, Mint officials chose to greatly limit production. The 1864-S has especially captured the attention of collectors. Half eagles from the rough-and-tumble Carson City Mint dated 1870-CC, 1873-CC, and 1878-CC have also found high favor.
Of course there are ultra rare members of the
Coronet club too. The
1854-S, issued during the first year of existence for the San
Francisco Mint, had a mintage of only 268, most of which were
destroyed. None have been sold in recent years, at least not publicly.
The 1887 has a mintage of only 87, all proofs. Problem-free examples of
the 1887 bring more than $100,000. An aura of mystery hangs over the
1841-O. Mint records indicate that 50 were struck, but none are known
in any collection today. Scholars believe they were all melted, but
should you happen to discover one in a recently inherited box of coins,
the numismatic world would be stood on its head, reporters rushing to
be the first to announce the finding of a long lost coin worth more
than a million dollars.
Our advice is not to buy key date Coronet Half
Eagles that have not
been certified by one of the four leading grading service companies:
PCGS, NGC, ICG, or ANACS. Most collectors have greater trust in coins
graded by any of the Big Four, and will pay more, knowing when they
decide to sell, prospective buyers will be similarly confident. On the
flip side of the coin, pardon the pun, most knowledgeable collectors
shy away from lesser known grading services, or want substantial
discounts, because so many of the other services have a reputation for
less stringent grading standards.