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History of the Liberty Eagle


The U.S. Mint began producing gold coins in 1795. Despite some heavy mintages, these coins did not circulate. Most were soon melted, since they were worth more as bullion than their face value.

In 1834, the weights of U.S. gold coins was considerably reduced, making the face value greater than their gold content. This restored gold coins to circulation.

To distinguish these lighter coins, new designs were in order. After some experimentation with effigies of liberty on the $5 coin (now called the Classic head), Chief Engraver Christian Gobrecht designed the version seen on the 1838 Eagle. This was the first issue of the $10 denomination in many years. The reverse remained similar to the Reich-designed $5 gold reverse long in use.

The $10 obverse design was modified for unknown reasons beginning mid-1839.

Liberty Eagles are also called Coronet Eagles or Gobrecht Eagles. The Eagle is synonymous with the $10 denomination.

Some dates of Liberty Eagles depict Liberty with a rounded hair bun. Others show her with a bulging hair bun. Some Philadelphia dates have both bun types: 1847, 1860, 1861, 1867, 1869, 1877.

Some reverses of Liberty Eagles show a small, mysterious center ring. Since it is raised, it was part of the die, probably an incidental result of the die manufacturing process. These rings appear on some 1847 and 1848, most 1848-O, 1849-O and 1853-O, and all 1851-O and 1852-O Eagles.

Perhaps due to the horrors of the Civil War, the motto "In God We Trust" was added to most U.S. coin designs during the 1860s. The Liberty Eagle was no exception. Most 1865 Eagles are without motto, but two proof examples were made with the motto. One is permanently in the Smithsonian. The other appeared in the Farouk sale. Where is it now? It would be the most valuable $10 Liberty.

The 1866-S is known both with and without motto, but all other Liberty Eagles dated 1866 and later bear the motto.

Branch mint proofs: a unique 1844-O Proof Liberty Eagle resurfaced in 1994. Why this was minted, no one knows. When the Denver Mint opened in 1906, a few 1906-D Proof Eagles were minted in commemoration. I have never seen one offered at auction or for sale, however.

President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned Augustus St. Gauden's to redesign U.S. coinage. He died before he was able to complete this task, but he did redesign the $10 and $20 denominations. The last Liberty Eagle was minted in 1907.

President Franklin Roosevelt recalled gold coins in 1933. Many Liberty Eagles were melted into gold bars during this period. Fortunately, many Eagles had been exported to foreign lands, whose governments stored the coins as gold reserves. In recent decades these coins have made it back to the U.S. Few survive in choice condition, however, due to bagmarks from years of careless storage.

Quarter Eagle
Old Reverse
New Reverse
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