The half eagle or $5 gold denomination was originally established in the United States under the Coinage Act of 1792. During the first several decades, the coins were produced in fits and starts, changing designs frequently. A change in gold content would stabilize the issuance and lead to higher mintages and better circulation. This set the stage for the so-called Liberty Head design, which would run uninterrupted for an impressive span of years from 1839 to 1908 before finally being replaced.
The design was based on earlier designs, but reworked by Christian Gobrecht. The obverse featured the head of the allegorical Lady Liberty with hair beneath a crown and surrounded by stars. The reverse design mirrored earlier attempts with a bald eagle containing shield, arrows, and olive branch. With only a few slight modifications, this design would be the face of the denomination for nearly eighty years.
As might be imagined, the lengthy series was struck at multiple mint facilities, in total numbering seven. All together there were more than 200 different date and mint mark combinations, making for an almost unfathomable set. A number of extremely low mintage rarities are also included. In some cases, the total mintage levels number in the low hundreds of pieces, making for some exceptionally difficult acquisitions for even the most well-heeled collector.
Certainly, this series represents a new mark in longevity for a coin series. In modern times with multiple designs released within the same year for a single denomination, such stability is refreshing and intriguing.