Gold eagle production was halted in 1804 by President Thomas Jefferson because the fixed 15 to 1 silver to gold ratio in the U.S. made it profitable to send the coins to Europe for bullion value; which meant few gold coins circulated in this country. It wasn’t until Congressional Acts reduced the weight and diameter of the eagle to make melting unprofitable that gold coins appeared in commerce. Even so the coins were not commonly seen because they represented a significant amount of money at the time, more so because of the depression and “Hard Times” era that coincided with the first years of the coin’s introduction. Even when the economy improved in the 1850s eagles were not widely used. Half eagles were preferred for commerce and double eagles for banking and international trade. Only in 1847 did mintage of No Motto eagles exceed one million coins, and for many years production from the three mints that produced the coin totaled less than 100,000 pieces. Engraver Christian Gobrecht prepared the new design, which was said to be influenced by the portrait of Venus in Benjamin West’s “Love Conquers All”painting. A minor change to Liberty’s portrait and reverse lettering size was made in 1839, but other than the addition of an IN GOD WE TRUST banner to the reverse in 1866 the coin remained virtually the same until the last year of production in 1907.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
On the obverse of the coin a classical Liberty faces to the left, hair bundled at the back and secured with a beaded tie, but with a couple of curls cascading down the neck to the back and the side. The word LIBERTY stretches across a coronet resting above her forehead. Thirteen six-point stars encircle just inside a dentilled rim, broken only by the date at the bottom, and offset slightly to the left in 1838 but centered from 1839 forward. Liberty’s portrait was modified slightly in 1839, with changes to the truncation line at the shoulder and in the arrangement of hair over her ear. A left-facing eagle centers on the reverse, wings outstretched with a shield across the breast. Three arrows are clutched in the sinister (viewer’s right) claw, and olive branch in the dexter claw. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA circles inside a dentilled rim, broken into three parts by the eagle’s wing tips. At the bottom is the denomination TEN D., separated from the legend by a centered dot to the left and to the right. The size of the reverse lettering was reduced in 1839. Coins were minted in Philadelphia (all years), New Orleans (1841-1860), and San Francisco (1854-1866). The fairly large O and S mintmarks are on the reverse, below the eagle and above TEN D.
Prices are moderate at Very Fine and Extremely Fine grades but increase steadily at near-Mint grades and finer. Few coins have been certified as Gem and above; those that do sell at significant multiples of near-Gem coins. Some branch mint coins list at two to four times the level of Philadelphia dates at lower grades, but prices even out somewhat at Mint State and finer. Dates selling for higher premiums include the scarce 1838 first year, the 1839 Liberty and letter-size variations, some 1840s and the 1858 Philadelphia coins, many of the New Orleans and San Francisco issues, some of the overdates, and the last half dozen years preceding the addition of the reverse motto in 1866. Prooflike circulation strikes have been certified, as have coins recovered from the S.S. Republic shipwreck. All proofs are expensive, with the 1838 and 1839 coins extremely so. Cameo and deep cameo coins are listed in census/ population reports.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht (James Longacre from 1844 forward)
Circulation Mintage:high 862,258 (1847), low 1,218 (1863)
Proof Mintage: high 80 (1859, estimated), low 1 (1844-O; all other proofs from Philadelphia with totals for many years estimated or unknown)
Denomintion: $10.00, Eagle
Diameter: ±27 mm, reeded edge
Metal content: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: ±16.72 grams
Varieties:Varieties include the two Liberty portraits and reverse letter sizes for 1839; the 1839/8 overdate, large and small date versions for 1842, 1850, and 1854-O; and many other overdates, minor design changes, and die variations.
Additional Resources :
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins: 1795-1933. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.