Designed by Robert Scot, the Draped Bust Half Eagles were the first U.S. gold coins of any denomination. The obverse features Liberty in a soft cap, with her bust draped in order to avoid possibly upsetting the more conservative mores of the time.
On the reverse is the heraldic eagle, a Union shield on its chest, holding arrows in its right claw and an olive branch in its left. Arrayed around the eagle’s head are 13 stars, with clouds spreading from wing tip to wing tip. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds the devices. Placing arrows in the eagle’s right claw was either a major blunder or a personal militaristic statement by the engraver. In heraldry the right claw, also known as the dexter claw, is the dominant of the two. The Great Seal of the United States, from which this design is taken, has an eagle holding an olive branch in the right claw symbolizing the nation’s great desire to live in peace. It is not known whether the erroneous placement of the arrows was intentional.
This new reverse was a marked improvement over the “scrawny” eagle seen on the Small Eagle Type. The first coin to display this new reverse was the quarter eagle of 1796.
This series is rich in varieties for the advanced collector to acquire and study. Many of the varieties are in the number, placement and size of the stars, both obverse and reverse. Also of interest to collectors are the overdates within the Type, and a myriad of obverse-/reverse-die marriage pairs.
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