Classic Head Quarter Eagle
Classic Head Quarter Eagles are readily available in all grades through Extra Fine, but are elusive in mint-state and rare in gem condition (most of these coins saw heavy use).
The United States has struck a large number of gold coins -–there have been $1, $2.50, $3, $4, $5, $10, $20 and $50 gold coins struck at the various U.S. Mints over the years! There have been circulation-issue gold coins struck, commemorative gold coins struck, bullion gold coins struck. So it’s easy to forget that in the first thirty years or so, that the U.S. Mint was striking gold coins, production was pretty sparse. In fact, gold coinage from 1795 to about 1833 was limited to a fairly small production of $2.50, $5 and $10 gold coins. One reason for this, is that the United States had not yet tapped into any great gold deposits on U.S. soil – remember, the California Gold Rush would not begin until 1849.
But then, from the late 1820's through the early 1830's, a healthy amount of gold was found in the hills of western North Carolina and northern Georgia. The United States had far more of the precious metal at its disposal. The result: an increase in the number of $5 and $10 gold coins struck, the addition of new branch mints in Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia, and a new type of $2.50 gold coin. The Classic Head $2.50 gold piece.
The new type of $2.50 gold coin was designed by William Kneass. The spread-winged eagle on the reverse mostly, but not completely, resembled the eagle on the previous Turban Head $2.50 gold coin. But, in addition to the slight artistic difference, the Classic Head quarter-eagle had no “E Pluribus Unum” banner above the eagle. On the obverse, a skinny, young and thin-nosed Miss Liberty with a head adorned with tight curls, wore a “LIBERTY” headband, but no cap like the Miss Liberty of the previous Turban Head $2.50 gold coin. In fact, the Liberty bust on the Classic Head $2.50 (and $5) gold coin, does NOT resemble the Liberty bust on the Classic Head large cent of 1808-14. Instead, it much resembles the ‘Silly Head’ and “Booby Head’ varieties of the 1835-39 Matron Head large cents.
The Classic Head $2.50 gold piece, or quarter-eagle, was struck only from 1834 to 1839. But its first year mintage of over 112,000 pieces, was higher than the production of all the 1796-1833 quarter-eagles combined! Production of the quarter-eagle gold coin rose even higher in the next two years, with 131,402 struck in 1834 and a record-high 547,986 struck in 1836. Mintage figures would go down in the years 1837 through 1839, especially when divided amongst the new branch mints, but production would never again sink to the consistently low levels of the 1796-1833 years.
With all the gold coming out of Georgia and North Carolina during the late 1820's and early 1830's, branch mints were established in those two states. Yet another was established in New Orleans, Louisiana as well. The Classic Head quarter-eagle (and its older sibling the Classic Head Half Eagle) were the first U.S. gold coins to be struck at branch mints. In 1838, the Charlotte mint struck a fairly small (7,880) number of quarter-eagles. In 1839, the Charlotte mint did better with over 18,000 quarter-eagles produced. That same year (which would also be the last year for the Classic Head quarter-eagle), the Dahlonega and New Orleans mints got into the act. The Dahlonega mint produced 13,674 quarter-eagles, while the New Orleans mint struck 17,781 quarter-eagles. The Charlotte mint had a “C” mintmark, the Dahlonega mint had a “D” mintmark, and the New Orleans mintmark was an “O.”
The most affordable Classic Head quarter-eagle gold coins will be the 1834-39 pieces struck at the Philadelphia mint. Though there are big mintage discrepancies – for instance the 1836 mintage of 547,986 versus the 1839 mintage of 27,021– the retail values are roughly the same. Each of the 1834-39 Philadelphia quarter-eagles retails $475-$500 in Very Fine, though the gaps between Philadelphia issues widens when you go up to Extra Fine and above. The Classic Head quarter-eagles struck at branch mints are more costly: the 1838-C retails $1,700 in Very Fine; the 1839-C retails $1,500 in Very Fine; the 1839-D retails $1,750 in Fine; the 1839-O retails a more reasonable $700 in Very Fine even with its tiny mintage of 17,781.
The Classic Head quarter-eagle was replaced by the Coronet Head quarter-eagle. With a production run of only six years, it is our nation's shortest-lived $2.50 gold coin. And to make things even more crazy, the Coronet Head quarter-eagle obverse does NOT look identical to the Coronet Head (or Matron Head) large cent of 1816-39. The Coronet Head quarter-eagle obverse INSTEAD looks just like the obverse of the BRAIDED Hair large cent of 1840-57! Such is the weird and wacky world of U.S. coin classification.