Classic Gold coins hold great value for collectors due to the history behind them. Gold coinswere legal tender formany ancient empires like the Persian Empire, the Byzantine and the Greek in the 'Old World' and the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans in the 'New World'. And this wonder metal created these dynasties and toppled them too.

When Columbus discovered the Americas, it opened up a huge opportunity for the Spanish to expand their control across the Atlantic. The Spanish came galleon after galleon and plundered the gold that the Aztecs and Incas had. Then came the British, the Dutch, the French and the Portuguese. Some of them settled, but most plundered the gold that was found aplenty with the natives. Almost all native civilizations in the Americas were destroyed because of the influx of the Europeans in search of gold.

Later, the 1849 Gold rush of California made men flock west for a chance to make it big. The Gold fever attracted even immigrants who landed fresh off European ships. While a lucky few struck gold, most of the men perished due to hardships in the mines or lawlessness in the wild frontier. But the sudden population explosion caused many businesses to come up to support the miners. At the end of the Gold rush, more than 750,000 pounds of Gold were extracted and a new state called California was added to the Union. A new mint opened up in San Francisco to strike gold coins out of the freshly mined gold.[1]

In the United States, the Pre-1933 Gold coins are consideredthe 'Classic Gold coins'. The base unit denomination is called 'Eagle'. An Eagle is 10 dollars, the half eagle is 5 dollars, the double eagle is 20 dollars, and quarter eagle is 2.5 dollars.

Quarter Eagle

The first Quarter Eagle was designed by Robert Scot, the 1st Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint and was struck starting from 1796 at the Philadelphia mint and at different years in other branch mints, Charlotte, Denver and New Orleans.[2]

Liberty Head $2.5

The Liberty Head or the Coronet Head was designed byChristian Gobrecht and struck between 1840 and 1907. It was one of the famous varieties of Quarter Eagles. One of the key date's for this variety is the 1848 CAL. Quarter Eagle.Colonel R.B.Mason the military governor of California sent the first gold (around 220 ounces) from the Gold Rush to Secretary of War Marcy. These were promptly made into Quarter Eagles in the Philadelphia mint. Around 1389 coins were minted with the 'CAL.' mark above the eagle on the reverse. These Classic Gold coins are extremely rare and go for $100,000 and above in Mint state conditions.

Half Eagle

The Half Eagle was the first gold coin minted by the United States and has a face value of $5. The Half Eagle was also originally designed by Robert Scot, but the designs were changed over the years.[3]

Liberty Head $5

The Liberty Head or Coronet Head was designed byChristian Gobrecht in 1839. The Quarter Eagle and the Half Eagle designs of the Liberty Head were virtually the same. This design was continued for the next 70 years till 1908, with just one change in 1866 when 'IN GOD WE TRUST' was placed in the reverse above the eagle.

Indian Head $5

In 1908, Bela Lyon Pratt, completely redesigned the Half Eagle. For the first time in the history of coin designing, Pratt made the design incuse or recessed rather than raised.Theflat points were the highest surfaces of the coin. The obverse had a Native American with a head dress and the reverse had a perched eagle. The recessed design came under bitter controversy by Philadelphia Numismatist Samuel Chapman who argued that the design could cause dirt or germs to be harbored and could easily be counterfeited. But the design continued to be produced till 1915 and again once in 1929.


The Eagle was the base unit of denomination for gold coins in the US. The Gold Eagles were issued from 1795 to 1933, when Theodore Roosevelt asked the mint to stop production of gold coins.[4]

Indian Head $10 Eagle

In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter to his Secretary of Treasury lamenting the fact that U.S. coins lacked artistic talent. The famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was selected by the President himself to create new designs for the cent and the goldcoins.For the Liberty design, Roosevelt requested an Indian Head dress be added. The Indian Head $10 Eagle Liberty design has the same obversedesign of the cent from that year. The obverse has a left facing bust of Liberty with an Indian Head dress and 13 stars in the edge of the coin above Liberty. The reverse has aneagle standing on a bunch of arrows.


The first Double Eagle that was released coincided with the California Gold rush of 1849 and had a face value of $20. Till then the 'Eagle' was the highest denomination for gold coins.[5]

Liberty Head $20 Double Eagle

The Liberty Head design was the first design for the $20 Double Eagle by US Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre. The obverse had a Liberty with a coronet and was called the 'Liberty Coronet' as a result. The reverse design has a heraldic eagle. This design continued till 1907.

Saint Gaudens $20 Double Eagle

In 1907, Saint-Gaudens designed a high relief Liberty design that took almost 11 strikes to get right. Even though this high relief coin did not stack properly and was considered impractical, collectors pay anything above $2.25 million dollars for the proof versions now. Later, the mint made low relief versions of the coin. Most numismatists agree that this Double Eagle designed by Saint-Gaudens isthe most beautiful U.S. coin ever. The obverse shows a Liberty holding a torch and an olive branch with the Sun's rays behind her. 46 stars in the rim of the coin depicted the states in the union in 1907. More stars were added to the design with each new state in the union. The reverse of the coin shows an eagle in flight with the Sun's rays behind it.


Gold Dollar

The need for a Gold dollar was always debated in the Congress in the 1830s, but never accepted. But when there was a huge supply of bullion after the Gold rush of 1849, the US Congress decided to go ahead withthe Gold dollar. It was minted from 1849 till 1889. During the Civil war years, the gold dollar became scarce from general commerce and circulation and then by 1889 was discontinued.[6]

Type I Liberty Head $1

The Type 1 Liberty Head Gold dollar depicts Liberty facing left with a coronet in her head. The reverse features the date and denomination of the coin within a wreath. Most numismatists then and now considerthe Type 1 Liberty Head favorably as it was considered adelicate and beautiful coin. It was designed by the Chief Mint Engraver James B. Longacre. The coins were minted in Philadelphia and other branch mintsCharlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans. From 1854, the dollar was also minted in the San Francisco mint. Of the pieces struck in Charlotte, approximately five are 'Open Wreath' variety and understandably among the rarest Classic Gold coins.

Type III Indian Princess Gold dollar

The Type II and Type III Gold dollar coins are a scaled down version of the design of an Indian Princess Head that Longacre had created for the $3 coin. It depicted Liberty as an Indian Princess with a fancy head-dress. The reverse showed an 'agricultural wreath' composed of cotton, corn, tobacco and wheat.

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This entry was posted in Gold coins and tagged pre 1933 gold coins, gold coins, classic gold coins on August 24, 2016 by lavanya kannan