The gold half eagle coin was a United States gold coin produced from 1795 to 1929. Composed almost entirely of gold, it had a face value of five dollars. Its production was authorized by The Act of April 2, 1792, and it was the first gold coin minted by the United States.
The design and composition of the gold half eagle changed many times over the years, but it was originally designed by Robert Scot. At this time the coin contained .9167 gold and .0833 copper and silver. It had a diameter of approximately 25 mm, a weight of 8.75 grams, and a reeded edge. The obverse design, or "Turban Head", depicted a capped portrait of Liberty facing to the right. The reverse depicted a small eagle. This type was produced from 1795 to 1798. Simultaneously, another type was minted that depicted a larger heraldic eagle on the reverse with the inscription "E PLURIBUS UNUM". This type was produced through 1807. From 1807 to 1812, a new type designed by John Reich was produced, the "Draped Bust", featuring a round-capped Liberty facing left on the obverse and a modified eagle on the reverse. For the first time, the value "5 D." was placed on the reverse of the coin to indicate its value. In 1813 a modified version of the Draped Bust was introduced, removing much of the bustline and giving Liberty an overall larger appearance. This design which would last through 1834. Another modification occurred in 1829 when the diameter of the coin was reduced slightly to 23.8 mm, although the overall design remained unchanged.
By 1834, the gold in the half eagle was worth more than its face value. The Act of June 28, 1834 called for a reduction in the gold used. The weight of the coin was reduced to 8.36 grams, the diameter reduced to 22.5 mm, and the composition changed to .8992 gold and .1008 silver and copper. A new obverse, the "Classic Head", was created by William Kneass for the altered coin. The reverse still depicted the modified eagle introduced in 1813, but "E PLURIBUS UNUM" was removed to distinguish further the new composition. In 1837, the gold content of this type was increased to .900 in accordance with the Act of January 18, 1837. In 1839 the coin was redesigned again. The new obverse was designed by Christian Gobrecht and is known as the "Coronet head". The reverse design remained largely the same, although the value was changed from "5 D." to "Five D.". There was no longer any silver in the coin, its composition was now .900 gold and .100 copper. Its weight was virtually the same, 8.359 grams, but the diameter was reduced one final time, to 21.6 mm. This design was used for nearly 70 years, from 1839 to 1908, and remained the same until 1866, when "E PLURIBUS UNUM" was once again placed on the reverse above the eagle.
In 1908, the final type, designed by Bela Lyon Pratt, was first produced. The composition, weight, and diameter of the coin remained unchanged, but both the obverse and reverse were drastically altered. The new design matched the new quarter eagle design of the same date. These two series are unique in United States coinage because the design and inscriptions are stamped in incuse, rather than being raised from the surface, meaning that the flat surfaces are the highest points of the gold coin. The obverse depicted an Indian head wearing a feathered headdress. The reverse depicted a perched eagle with the inscriptions "E PLURIBUS UNUM" and "IN GOD WE TRUST". Production of the half eagle was suspended during World War I and not resumed until 1929, the final year of issue.
The $5 denomination has the distinction of being the only denomination for which coins were minted at all eight US mints. Prior to 1838 all half eagle gold coins were minted in Philadelphia because there were no other operating mints. In 1838, the Charlotte Mint, and the Dahlonega Mint produced gold half eagle coins of the Coronet type in their first years of operation, and would continue to mint half eagles until 1861, their last year of operation. The New Orleans Mint minted gold half eagles from 1840 to 1861. The San Francisco Mint first produced gold half eagle coins in 1854, its first year of operation, as did Carson City in 1870, and Denver in 1906. Although gold half eagle production was discontinued in 1929, $5 gold half eagle commemorative coins and bullion coins were minted at West Point in the late twentieth-century. Proof coins were produced at Philadelphia from 1859 on.
Turban Head 1795–1807
Turban Head, Small Eagle 1795–1798
Turban Head, Large Eagle 1795–1807
Capped Bust to Left 1807–1812
Capped Head 1813–1834
Classic Head 1834–1838
Liberty Head (Coronet) 1839–1907
Coronet, without motto 1839–1866
Coronet, with motto 1866–1908
Indian head 1908–1916, 1929