Battle of the Classic Head Fives: The 1838-C vs. The 1838-D

Battle of the Classic Head Fives: The 1838-C vs. The 1838-D

If you ask most casual collectors which of these two issues is the rarer or more desirable, I’m guessing most would select the 1838-D. Let’s look at the Tale of the Tape for each issue and then I will add some analysis.

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1842-D SD $5.00 PCGS VF35 CAC

Small Date variety. An attractive, evenly worn example with nearly enough to detail to grade EF40 but with a few old, well-hidden surface marks keeping this at the Choice VF level. On both sides, the color is a uniform deep green-gold. A scarce date in any grade and a very hard coin to locate with original color and surfaces. This is the only 1842-D Small Date half eagle in any grade below EF40 to have been approved by CAC.

1843-D $5.00 PCGS AU53 CAC

Medium D mintmark variety. Very well struck as is typically the case of this date and variety with full radial lines within the stars and sharp, individually defined hair and feather details. The color is an attractive medium to deep green gold which is "correct" for original examples of this date. This coin would probably grade AU55 or even AU58 if it were not for the presence of a reeding mark on Liberty's throat and small, thin nick on the cheek. A great piece for the type collector or a good piece for the new Dahlonega specialist who wants to get his feet wet with a nice quality but affordable half eagle.

1856-D $5.00 NGC EF45

I almost never see this date in the EF grades. Most 1856-D half eagles are in higher grades (AU53 and up) and this is due to the presence of a hoard as well as a lack of circulation. But this piece is not only a Choice EF, it has lovely warm reddish-gold color at the borders and smooth, lightly abraded surfaces. The strike is typically soft with the radial lines in the stars very flat and somewhat beveled edges.

1853-D $5.00 NGC AU53 CAC

Large D mintmark. This coin has among the more interesting back stories of any D mint half eagle that I've offered for quite some time. I purchased it from a dealer in the United States who imported it from Europe. This dealer, who is extremely knowledgeable about U.S. gold coins, says that this is one of the very few Dahlonega pieces that he has been able to buy in the last few years. He added that both Charlotte and Dahlonega coins are almost never found in Europe, despite his careful scrutiny of tens of thousands of gold coins every year. Besides the neat story, the coin itself is pleasing with lovely multi-hued reddish-gold hues on the obverse and, more extensively, on the reverse. Both sides are lightly abraded and both show a good deal of natural dirt in the protected areas. The 1853-D is one of the most common Dahlonega half eagles but you could look for years and not find an example with better color than this

1853-D $5.00 PCGS AU58

Large D Mintmark. This choice slider has good luster and pleasing medium orange-gold colors on the obverse and the reverse. The strike is somewhat above-average for the issue with less beveling at the rims than usual but some overall bluntness at the centers and on the radial lines of the stars. There is just the slightest amount of friction seen on the high points of the obverse; the reverse is fully Uncirculated and grades MS61 or better on its own. The fields are a bit scuffy with a few shallow marks seen on both sides. The 1853-D is among the more available half eagles from this mint but choice, original AU58 examples like this are not easy to locate. Personally, I'd rather have this coin in my collection than the typical rubby, dipped MS61 at nearly double the price.

1847-D $5.00 PCGS EF45 CAC

Deep reddish-gold hues are seen on the obverse and the reverse with the reverse the darker of the two sides. The underlying surfaces show some scattered marks that are consistent with the assigned grade. Well detailed, appealing and a perfect type coin for the collector seeking a single affordable example of a half eagle from the popular Dahlonega mint.

1846-D/D $5.00 PCGS AU53 CAC

D over D mintmark variety. I'm going to go out on a limb here and state that this is one of the loveliest circulated Dahlonega half eagles of any date that I have seen in some times. Both the obverse and the reverse are covered with thick warm amber-gold color which is slightly more intense in hue on the reverse than on the obverse. The fields are extremely clean with no marks of note and the strike is excellent with sharp, even detail seen at the centers and borders. A few spots of dirt can be seen on the reverse above and below the D in UNITED. Locating Dahlonega half eagles of this quality has always been difficult and the 1846-D/D is an extremely scarce variety with this degree of originality. A great coin for the connoisseur who appreciates extreme originality.

The 1846-D/D is a spectacular naked-eye variety on which the original mintmark punch was too high and then another was placed directly below it. It is scarce in terms of overall availability but it is actually seen more in high grades than its Normal Mintmark counterpart.

1851-D $5.00 PCGS EF45

In collector grades (i.e., VF and EF) the 1851-D is one of the more difficult Dahlonega half eagles to find. When available, it is inevitably softly struck, bright from having been dipped and heavily abraded. This deeply toned, sharply struck example is a welcome exception. It displays rich natural russet-gold color with some purplish iridescence surrounding the stars, date and reverse lettering. The surfaces are free of any significant marks and the strike is exceptional for the date with completely defined centers and a strong mintmark placed far to the right. On the reverse, there is a good deal of dirt adhering to the lettering and within the lines of the shield. In my experience, this date, along with the 1848-D, is the most underrated half eagle from this mint and pieces of this quality are genuinely scarce.