First introduced in 1795, the half eagle was the first gold coin struck by the United States for circulation. As the second largest gold denomination issued by the U.S. Mint (until the appearance of the double eagle in 1850), the $5 coin represented a more moderate sum of money and was more practical for everyday commerce than the $10 eagle. While a drought of bullion deposits limited mintages in the early years of production, striking quantities generally trended upward through the early 19th century. In fact, after 1804, when mintage of the $10 gold piece was stopped, the half eagle was the only gold coin issued from 1809 through 1820, as bullion depositors often demanded the largest denomination in return for their precious metal.
Though mintages were moderate, many half eagles were damned by gold content that exceeded their stated face value, prompting significant exportation and melting to take advantage of the more favorable gold to silver ratios that governed European markets. Given production figures for gold coins of this era bear little relevance to the true rarity of several issues.
It is during this significant era of U.S. numismatics that the current delightful Tall 5 example was struck. Displaying Assistant Engraver John Reich’s Capped Bust Left motif, the 1811 issue saw two distinct varieties: one exhibiting a more diminutive 5 in the denomination on the reverse (Small 5), and one with a more lengthy 5 (Tall 5). While just slightly more rare than the Small 5 variety in circulated grades, Tall 5 examples become nearly twice as scarce in Mint State, emphasizing the true desirability of the present offering.
Lustrous sunshine yellow dominates the surfaces of this lovely Mint State rarity, accented by subtle honey gold in the protected regions. The design elements are nicely pronounced throughout, with sharpness to the central reverse that transcends what is typically encountered on this issue. Liberty’s portrait on the obverse is pleasantly unscathed across the vulnerable areas, with attractive luster emanating from the intricacies. The fields on both sides remain fully undisturbed and silken.
The faintest die crack and adjustment marks (both as struck) can be seen at the peripheries. Just beyond the final S in STATES on the reverse and continuing downward through the scroll is evidence of striking through a thread or wire, though this is largely imperceptible without magnification and should not be mistaken for a post-Mint blemish. This lovely Mint State example delivers superior aesthetic and technical merit for the assigned grade.
This beautiful treasure is just one of the many important coins to be offered as part of our sale of The Griggs Collection in our October 2015 Rarities Auction. Consisting of significant U.S. gold rarities represented by virtually every type, this offering will be an important opportunity. For more information about The Griggs Collection and the other world-class treasures included in our October 2015 Rarities Auction, please visit StacksBowers.com or contact your regional office.