While the eagle was supposed to be the nation's primary gold coin, for international trade, most bankers and traders preferred
the half eagle. Their argument was that the eagle was too small for large trades and too large for small trades, besides, the half
eagle matched other (foreign) gold coins more closely. The eagle was also unpopular at home (each eagle represented about one weeks
wages for one worker).
A right-facing Liberty wearing a soft cap is featured on the obverse. Liberty has long flowing hair down her back and curling
from under her cap. The hair that is wrapped from the back around the cap may account for the "Turban Head" name often given to
The Mint, responding to criticisms of the "scrawny" eagle on the first eagles, changed the design to a heraldic eagle. Some
believed the change was a response to a preference for symbols reminiscent of a European tradition. If so, the eagle and shield
motif of the Great Seal of the United States fit that need.
The eagles of this era that have survived (200 years) are generally in excellent condition and probably escaped being melted
down in Europe because they were keepsakes or part of someone's savings. A few proof-like circulation strikes have been identified,
but no proofs are known for the three-year type.
Census and population reports show a few hundred Capped Bust Eagle, Small Eagle coins (most are 1795 issues) and a few thousand
Capped Bust Eagle, Heraldic Eagle certifications. All pieces (large and small eagle) are expensive, even at low grades; anything
finer than VF is extremely expensive, with prices approaching a half million dollars for the large eagle, and one million for the
small eagle if in Gem and finer condition.
Type 1 and Type 2 Specs.
Designer: Robert Scot Content: 91.7% gold 8.3% other Diameter: 33 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 17.5 grams Mint Mark Location: None (All were struck in Philadelphia)
Early in 19th century, the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars resulted in a worldwide surge in gold prices. The U.S. Mint
was statutorily bound to the weight specifications of its coins and 15 to 1 silver/gold ratio. This was required by the Act of
1792. Fluctuating market prices wreaked havoc larger gold coin. The $10 Capped Bust Eagle contained an ounce of gold, worth 15 ounces
of silver in the United States, but it was worth 15½ ounces of silver in Paris. This motivated bullion dealers to buy
gold coins in the United States, (mostly with South American silver), and ship them to Paris to be sold for a profit.
By 1813 the ratio of silver to gold would reach 16¼:1. Soon, about 98% of all U.S. gold coins were melted down in Europe.
Gold eagle production was halted in 1804 by President Thomas Jefferson. In 1834 the Mint Act resolved the problem of gold
being exported to Europe by reducing the gold content of U.S. coins, thus making it unprofitable to melt them. Mintage resumed
in 1838, but even with a reduced gold content, eagle production remained low.
To denote the change in gold content, engraver Christian Gobrecht was instructed to prepare a new design. The design was said
to be influenced by a portrait of Venus in the painting by Benjamin West "Love Conquers All".
A minor change to Liberty's portrait and reverse lettering size was made in 1839. This revisions most notable feature was
exposed Liberty's ear.
In 1866 the addition of a banner displaying "IN GOD WE TRUST" on the reverse was added, it was the only other change and
the coin remained virtually the same until 1907.
Prices at Very Fine and Extremely Fine grades are moderate. Coins certified as Gem and above are rare and sell at significant
multiples of near-Gem coins of the same year. In the lower grades, some branch mint coins sell from two to four time higher than
Philadelphia coins, however, this is not true of higher Mint States. Some proof like circulation strikes have been certified. All
proofs are expensive (especially 1838 and 1839).
Liberty Head Eagle Specs.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht Content: 90% gold 10% other Diameter: 26.8 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 16.7 grams Mint Mark Location: Below the eagle on the reverse.
Some believed the obverse to be Henrietta (Hettie) Anderson, others say the Indian was modeled after a figure of Nike
(Victory). For the reverse, Saint-Gaudens adapted a standing eagle which had been used before on the inaugural medal created
for Theodore Roosevelt in 1905.
The wire and rolled rim motif differs from most circulation issue in that there are raised periods before and after the reverse
inscriptions. Some of these coins are called "Proof", but since all are struck from the same pair of dies, they are all Mint State,
or they are all Proofs.
The coinage of the 1907 with wire rim on the obverse and periods after the legend on the reverse is unknown. Estimates vary
slightly, but 500 to 550 would seem to be the best guess, but at least 70 of these were melted in 1914-1915. The exact figures
will never be known (assuming some uncovered or long-hidden records are not found). Current estimates of the population is
325 - 375, all with semi-lustrous (some where between matte and mint frost) surfaces.
The exact mintage of the "rolled edge" Eagle is unknown, it has been estimated from 20,000 to 34,100. However, most were melted
at the mint, and an estimated population of 50 coins is believed to have survived
After testing, it was found that these Indian Head coins (Wire Rim - Mintage 500) would not stack, a problem for commerce, and
the modified rounded rim (Rolled Rim - Mintage 42) would still not stack satisfactorily.
Since the wire rims would not stack well, it was left to Charles Barber to make additional changes (he had changed the raised
rim to the rounded rim) so that the coin could be produced efficiently and in large enough quantities for commerce. Barber's
artistic efforts were criticized, but the technical changes were successful in terms of coin production.
That phrase IN GOD WE TRUST appeared on the previous Liberty Head eagles, and was in fact mandated by the Act of March 3,
1865, but it was left off by Saint-Gaudens. Some say that the omission was approved by Teddy Roosevelt, who apparently believed
that placing religious references on circulating coinage was blasphemy: the same coin that appeared in this week's offering plate
may be used to gamble with next week. Congress disagreed with Roosevelt, encouraged by strong public opinion, the motto was added
to reverse later in 1908.
Indian Head Eagle Spec.
Designer: Christian Gobrecht Content: 90% gold 10% other Diameter: 26.8 millimeters Edge: Reeded Weight: 16.7 grams Mint Mark Location: Left of the arrowheads on the reverse.