1831 Capped Head $5 Half Eagle, Small 5D

John Reich’s Capped Draped Bust half eagle type of 1807 lasted until 1812. The next year Reich modified his design by removing details below Liberty’s neckline, enlarging her head, and changing the size and shape of the cap. Fewer, less noticeable changes were made to the reverse.

This basic design, called the Capped Head half eagle, continued until 1834. The slang term given to this group is “Fat Head Fives,” because of Liberty’s large head and neck.(1)

Throughout most of its production run of 1813 to 1834, the value of gold bullion exceeded the $5 face value of the Capped Head half eagle, encouraging extensive melting of this type. Despite respectable mintage totals for most of them, only a smattering of survivors remains today for many dates.(2)  Thus, the Capped Head half eagle is abounding with fantastic rarities capable of sending collectors into a frenzy.

One such date is the 1831 Small 5D variety. From the original mintage of 140,594 (this includes the Large 5D variety – also a highly treasured coin), perhaps only 20-30 are known of today.(3)

Fascinating Fact I: In 1834, the U.S. Mint switched to the Classic Head type for the $2.50 quarter eagle and $5 half eagle. The amount of gold content was also reduced to eliminate the profitability of melting, resulting in a much higher survivorship rate of Classic Head gold coins. Although any Classic Head gold coin is to be cherished, not a single date of this type earned a spot on the Key Date List of recommendations.

Fascinating Fact II: The 1831 half eagle has been recognized as a special coin for a very long time.  In October 1864, auctioneer W. Elliot Woodward described lot 1653 as "1831 Very fine indeed, and extremely rare, the first offered at public sale."  It sold for $40.  Researchers believe this is the exact same coin graded as MS-67 that sold for a record price of $646,250 when it was offered in the D. Brent Pogue Collection in May 2016.(4)(5)

During the rare coin bull market of 2003-09, the few examples of the 1831 Capped Head Small 5D half eagles that sold brought amazingly high prices. Since then, values have tumbled.

However, the numismatic fundamentals supporting this incredibly rare coin have not wavered, suggesting for well-heeled bargain seekers, now may be the time to leap (if the opportunity arises!).

Estimated survivors in all grades: 30
? The survivor estimate is from a Heritage Auction sale for this coin in 2005.
Learn more at Heritage Auctions.
PCGS Rarity Scale: 8.9
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
Learn more at PCGS.
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1831 Capped Head half eagle small 5D key date gold coin 1831 Capped Head Half Eagle Small 5D
Trendline Avg = 17.64 GOOD
Last updated 9-6-23
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1. Winter, Douglas:  Fat Head Five Half Eagles.  Douglas Winter Numismatics, 2009.

2. Heritage Auctions.  1831 $5 Small 5D.  Feb 2005 Auction.

3. Heritage Auctions.  1831 $5 Small 5D.  Feb 2005 Auction.

4. Heritage Auctions.  1831 $5 Large 5D.  Aug 2020 Auction.

5. Stack's Bowers Galleries.  1831 Capped Head Half Eagle. Small 5D. MS-67.  May 2016 Auction.

**Many very fine coin dealers sell on eBay. At any point in time, there may be over one million search results for United States coins. This includes quite a few of the recommendations on our Key Date Coin List.

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Coin images by Stack's Bowers Galleries.