Gold Coins : Liberty Head $5 : Type 1, No Motto

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Obverse of 1842 Half Eagle Reverse of 1842 Half Eagle

Q. David Bowers (edited and updated by Mike Sherman): Christian Gobrecht’s Coronet design, also called the Liberty Head type, made its appearance in the half eagle series in 1839.  The obverse depicts a female head facing left, her hair tied in a bun secured by a string of beads, wearing a coronet inscribed LIBERTY, stars surrounding, with the date below.  The reverse shows an eagle with a shield on its breast, perched on an olive branch and holding three arrows.  The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, FIVE D. surrounds. 

Issues of 1839 and some of 1840 measure 22.5 mm in diameter, and are sometimes referred to as “broad mill” pieces, whereas later issues measure 21.6 mm.  The earlier issues showed smaller lettering on the reverse and a smaller date.  By the mid-1840s, most issues now featured larger reverse lettering and a larger date.  Some dates, notably 1842, showed both styles. 

Coinage was accomplished at the Philadelphia Mint on a continuous basis during the entire span.  Additional pieces were made from time to time at Charlotte, Dahlonega, New Orleans, and San Francisco.  In general, Charlotte and Dahlonega pieces are scarce.  The prime rarity in this series is the 1854-S, struck during the first year of operation at the San Francisco Mint, a coin of which just 268 were made and of which only three are known to exist today. 

The type collector will have no problem acquiring one of the more plentiful dates in any desired grade from Very Fine through the lower ranges of Uncirculated.  Once you go above MS64, the story changes and you’re looking at a very rare item.  Proofs were made in limited quantities, and are likewise very rare.

-- Reprinted with permission from "United States Coins by Design Types - An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor" by Q. David Bowers