In 1866, as the United States was reeling from the effects of the Civil War, Congress authorized using the motto “In God We Trust” on America’s coinage. It was a reflection of the country’s mood and tone; the atrocities of the war deeply affected the American psyche. The United States became more religiously-minded – and our coinage mirrored this fact.
From a numismatic standpoint, America’s $5 and $10 gold coins are divided into two major categories: No Motto and With Motto dates. The pre-1866 No Motto issues are substantially rarer than their With Motto counterparts. Exactly how much scarcer? Of all 1839-1908 $5 Half Eagles graded by NGC, just 9% are No Motto. In other words, No Motto Half Eagles are approximately 11x rarer.
The stats are even more extreme for the 1838-1907 $10 Eagle. Fewer than 5% of all $10 Gold Eagles are of the No Motto variety, making them 20x rarer than the With Motto version. These figures do not take into account the fact that many With Motto $5s and $10s have not been certified. In actuality, No Motto $5 and $10 pieces are probably more like 15-30x rarer than their With Motto counterparts.
Studying the NGC population reports revels another interesting fact. 88% of all No Motto Half Eagles certified by NGC are circulated, while 96% (!) of all No Motto Eagles were assigned circulated grades. That is, finding a No Motto $5 or $10 in Uncirculated is a wildly difficult feat. The overwhelming majority of pre-Civil War Half Eagles and Eagles are well-worn and show obvious signs of circulation.
Despite the extreme rarity of the pre-Civil War No Motto $5s and $10s, they remain surprisingly affordable in today’s marketplace. Problem-free lightly circulated No Motto Half Eagles usually trade for $450-$600 in Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated condition. As for No Motto $10 Eagles, lightly circulated specimens sell in the $950-$1300 range.
The most common No Motto $5 Half Eagle is the 1861 issue. Approximately 1200-1300 pieces are known, including a small number of beautiful Gem specimens. One coin, in fact, was certified by PCGS at the lofty grade level of MS67. Among No Motto $10 Eagles, dates like 1852 and 1853 are the most frequently encountered. Regardless of date, it is virtually impossible to find No Motto $10s above MS64. Being larger coins, $10 Eagles were much more likely to pick up marks and abrasions – and thus well-preserved specimens are extremely rare.