1834 Capped Head $5 Half Eagle, Plain 4

The story of the 1834 Capped Head Plain 4 $5 half eagle closely parallels that of 1834 Cross 4 half eagle.

The Capped Head $5 half eagle design was introduced in 1813 and was issued almost every year until 1834. In the final year of production, 74,709 pieces were struck, but of that number, 24,568 never exited the Mint, leaving a net mintage of 50,141.(1)

There are two major varieties of the 1834 Capped Head half eagle: the Plain 4 and the Cross 4. We know of four die marriages between them: BD-1 and BD-3 for the Plain 4, and BD-2 and BD-4 for the Cross 4. The BD-1 and BD-2 are very rare, but BD-3 and BD-4 examples are virtually uncollectible, capable of being counted on one hand.(2)

Overall, there were 1.39 million Capped Head half eagles struck from 1813-1834, but fewer than 1750 examples are known to exist today, indicating about 99.9% of their original number are gone.(3)

The Capped Head half eagle had the misfortune of being produced during a time in history when the price of gold was rising globally. The Mint Act of 1792, which created the United States Mint and regulated the issuance of coins, mandated the value ratio of silver to gold be maintained at 15:1. In Europe and elsewhere, because gold was going up and silver moving down, the silver to gold ratio reached 16:1.(4)

This situation created an opportunity for bullion profiteers. For example, someone could purchase $100 in gold coins in the United States (after being assayed and coined at the expense of the American people) with $1500 in silver, take the gold to London or Paris where it was sold and melted in exchange for $1600 in silver. This happened on a very large scale until nearly all U.S. gold coins vanished.

The lack of circulating gold coinage was a hindrance to economic growth in the United States. There were half dollars and other silver coins, but these were cumbersome for large business transactions.

Congress heard the complaints from across the country and finally acted on June 28, 1834, with the passage of a law reducing the gold content from U.S. coins to discourage exportation and melting.

On June 30, just two days later, an order of Capped Head half eagles was delivered to the Treasurer of the Mint. These were the last gold coins struck by the standards set forth by the Mint Act of 1792.

After August 1, 1834, anyone could bring “old tenor” gold coins to the Mint in exchange for lighter coins of the new Classic Head type. For every $5.00 turned in, the depositor received $5.33 in freshly struck coinage.

Most of the remaining Capped Head half eagles that escaped the melting pot came out of hiding and were exchanged at the Mint. There was enough gold to strike and release 657,460 of the 1834 Classic Head half eagles to a nation starving for gold coinage, where they remained in circulation, as intended.(5)

The 1834 is the last of the Capped Head half eagles, one of the most legendary series in U.S. numismatics. Because of their extreme rarity and surging value trends, owning even one Capped Head half eagle is a remarkable triumph for any collector.

Estimated survivors in all grades: 37
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Learn more at PCGS.
PCGS Rarity Scale: 8.7
? 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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1834 Capped Head Half Eagle Plain 4 Price trends 1834 Capped Head Half Eagle Plain 4
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1. Heritage Auctions.  1834 $5 Capped Head, Plain 4, BD-1.  Aug 2011 Auction.

2. Heritage Auctions.  1834 $5 With Motto, Plain 4, BD-1.  Sep 2022 Auction.

3. PCGS.  Capped Bust $5.

4. Stack's Bowers Galleries.  1834 Capped Head Half Eagle. BD-2. Crosslet 4.  Dec 2020 Auction.

5. Heritage Auctions.  1834 $5 Capped Head, Plain 4, BD-1.  Aug 2011 Auction.

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Coin images by Stack's Bowers Galleries.