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Classic Head Gold 1834-1839

Posted on: 2016-01-07

Classic Head Quarter Eagle


Quarter Eagles

On June 28th, 1834 the law of the land changed the coined money of the United States, reducing the weight and fineness of gold in American gold coins to match those of the rest of the world. In 1837 the law changed the standards of the coins again, this time increasing the fineness of the coins to .900 gold. Without going into detail, most of the coins prior to 1834 were gone or about to go, so the new coins were the only gold coins circulating. And circulate they did, from the mint directly into commerce, where they really took a beating.

The last of Capped Head Left Small Size (1829-1834) Quarter Eagles were issued in early 1834, and a new design, the Classic Head Quarter Eagle, designed by Mint Engraver William Kneass, was minted and issued for the balance of the same year. This is the first time the mint changed a design in midyear. Not only was the obverse head of the quarter eagle changed, but the motto, E PLURIBUS UNUM or the Latin “one out of many” was removed from the reverse altogether to match the larger gold coin. Also, the diameter of the coin was reduced to 18.2 millimeters, the weight of the coin was reduced to 64.5 grains, and gold fineness of the coin was reduced in 1834 to .8992 fine gold, and then increased again back to .900 fine gold in 1837.

Besides the main mint in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Classic Head Gold coins were manufactured at three additional mints, which were at Charlotte, North Carolina, Dahlonega, Georgia and New Orleans, Louisiana, so this is the first gold coin series with mint marks. This early gold series has an average survival rate of just less than one half of one percent.  The following is a date by date analysis of Classic Gold Quarter Eagles to aid collectors and Investors in making informed purchasing decisions in this short but rewarding gold series.

1834. Hands down the most common date of the Classic Head Quarter Eagles series, which is no surprise, as it was a first year of issue and many first year of issue coins are saved as souvenirs even to this day. This date comes from two distinct dies made from two different hubs, Head of 1834, and Head of 1835. Neither grading service cares to differentiate between them like they both do with the Half Eagles, so we cannot either. With a survival rate of one half of one percent. Noted numismatic author David Akers estimated ten proofs, which is probably high, though many more are reported by the independent grading services, a reflection of multiple submissions of the same coins, over and over.

1835. Although this date has the second highest mintage, it has a much lower survival rate than, for example, the 1834, which has a similar mintage. Available in lower circulated grades and only occasionally available in the higher grades. 

1836. The largest mintage of the type, in fact this date makes up half the mintage of the entire quarter eagle series. As one would expect, it also provides half the uncirculated examples that are known to the collecting fraternity. This date also comes in three distinct types, that being the Head of 1834, the Head of 1835 or sometimes called Script 8 variety, and the Head of 1837, or sometimes called the Block 8 type. The Head of 1837 becomes the third hub and die change in this short series. Again the grading services do not care to differentiate between all three types, so we note that the Head of 1834 is the most commonly encountered kind, usually in the lower circulated grades.

1837. A short mintage Philadelphia coin which continues the tradition of rarity from our first mint. While sometimes available in lower grades, this coin is rare in any of the uncirculated grades and just about unobtainable in Choice or Gem Uncirculated, or Proof.

1838. This year the mint brought out a brand new hub and made fresh dies, giving us the fourth head, or the Head of 1838, and retired all the earlier dies. This date is available in circulated grades and occasionally available in the higher grades.

1838-C. The first of two quarter eagles struck at the Charlotte mint. A very short mintage has both the fewest survivors in low grades and high grades.

1839/8. 9 over 8 overdate. While this date occasionally shows up in the lower grades, the date is exceedingly rare in uncirculated grades.

1839-C. The second quarter eagle struck at the Charlotte mint often comes with a recut “39” in the date logo.

1839/8-C. The overdate 9 over 8 on a Charlotte mint coin. PCGS lists just 9 examples in all grades.

1839/8-D. NGC recognizes this variety, while apparently PCGS does not. In any case, the coin is rare and desirable in all grades.

1839-O.  The first quarter eagle from the New Orleans mint, and the third most common coin of the series. While the coin is available in the higher grades, a lack of availability of quality coins of other dates in this series puts pressure on this date by collectors and investors, most of whom require condition as well as rarity for their coins.



Classic Head Half Eagle

Classic Gold Half Eagles

The last of the Capped Head Left Small Planchet Half Eagles (1829-1834) were issued in early 1834 and Mint Engraver William Kneass changed the weight and fineness of the gold coins with the half eagles just as he had been instructed to change those of the quarter eagles. The new half eagle coins had a new design, including a new head of Miss Liberty on the obverse and the removal of the motto on the reverse, just like the quarter eagle. While they maintained their old size at 22.5 millimeters, the weight dropped from 135 grains for the old coins to 129 grains on the new coins, and the fineness dropped as well from .9167 fine gold to .8992 fine gold in 1834, and was raised again to .900 fine gold in 1837, again just like the quarter eagles. We have again included a date-by-date analysis of the Classic Gold Half Eagles to aid collectors and investors in making informed decisions when buying coins in this gold series.

1834. The Plain 4 variety. The huge mintage makes up over one third of the entire mintage of this half eagle series, so it will come as no surprise to anyone that it is the most common coin of the series in just about all grades. Of course, Gems of this date, like all the other quarter eagle and half eagles in these series, are difficult to find and expensive when they rarely come up for sale.

1834. The Crosslet 4 Variety. Of the mintage of 658,000, probably about 46,000, or 7 percent, of the mintage are this variety.

1835. The third most common date, with low grade circulated examples usually available. It is possible to occasionally find a choice example of this date.

1836. The second most common date of the series. Coins in all grades including choice are available most of the time.

1837. The fifth most common date for total coins certified, but the date is just as tough as the others if you need a choice example, gems do not exist and the only proof known is in the Smithsonian.

1838. The fourth rarest date by total certifications, and a fair number of choice examples exist as well. There is one proof, the Reed coin.

1838-C.  A rare coin in all grades because of the small mintage. While well used circulated examples show up from time to time, uncirculated coins are rare and choice examples never appear.

1838-D. The 1838-D is a rare coin, and while there is plenty of indication that uncirulated pieces exist, Choice and Gem examples are unheard of.

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