Classic Head $5

For the first three decades of the 19th-century, the gold half eagle and silver half dollar were the workhorses of national commerce. Ironically, few saw daylight, spending their lives nestled in darkened vaults as bank reserves or disappearing across the Atlantic as international payments. Foreign silver pieces, underweight foreign gold coins and fractional banknotes served as retail currency in daily life. U.S. gold coins, whose bullion value on worldwide markets exceeded their face value in silver, experienced continual melting throughout the era. Suffering the worst destruction was the one gold coin minted during the years of heaviest melting, the Capped Head half eagle of 1813-1834. Congress finally addressed this untenable situation with the Mint Act of 1834. Drastic and long-lasting changes were now in store for the nation’s gold coinage. All gold coins were reduced in weight to a point where they would circulate—for the first time since 1795.