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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Regarding United States Gold Coins

By Willis K. McKinney

( Orginally published March 1947 )



The first issues were the eagle and half eagle of 1795. At that time fineness was 916 2/3 and weight 270 grains per eagle. An act of Congress in 1834 reduced fineness to 899.225 and the weight of the eagle became 258 grains. In 1837 fineness became 900 by slightly, increasing the amount of pure gold and decreasing the alloy, without changing the coin's weight.

All U. S. gold coins are proportionate in weight. For example, four half eagles weigh the same as a double eagle, and the gold dollar weighs just 2/5 as much as a quarter eagle.

Although the official unit of gold coinage has always been the eagle, that term does not appear as a denomination on any issue.

The first instance of a U.S. coin of general circulation bearing the signature or initials of its engraver is the double eagle of 1850 which bears the initials of James B. Longacre (J.B.L.) on the truncation of the bust.

The Type IV quarter eagle was current for 68 years (1840 to 1907) and represents the longest continuous use of a single design on any U.S. coin.

The last type double eagle, the work of the famous sculptor. Augustus St. Gansdens, is generallv considered to be the most magnificent and artistic U.S. coin ever issued. It is especially striking in the high reliet issue of 1907 of which 11,250 pieces, further embellished with the date in Roman numerals, were struck.

The last type half eagle and quarter eagle, designed by Bela L. Pratt, are distinctive in that the devices and inscriptions on both sides are completely incused.

In reverse of the trend of other U. S. coins, all gold isswes had reeded edges until 1907. Beginning at that time, both double eagles and eagles were struck witii lettered or starred edges. A four-dollar gold piece or "Stella" was designed and struck in verv small numbers in 1879 and 1880. It is considered a pattern and is extremely rare.

Our United States gold series contain some very rare dates and varieties, including what is known as the King of all Rarities, the 1822 half eagle.

Two of our Mints, those at Dahlonega, Ga., and Charlotte, N. C., struck only gold coins during the period of operation from 1838 to 1861.

Although a representative set of U. S. gold coins can be formed with the 26 major types, the specialist who is interested in such minor differences as size of liberty head, number of stars or lack of them, drapery or no drapery on bust, etc., will find a much more extensive field awaiting his exploration.