The category “Classic Head Gold Coinage” refers to a series of Quarter Eagles and Half Eagles produced in the 1830s. The design for these coins was first introduced in the early 1800s for the Half Cent and One Cent coins, but was retrofitted for the $2.50 Quarter Eagle and $5 Half Eagle in 1834. The motifs would be discontinued shortly thereafter; the Half Eagle switched to the Coronet design in 1839 and the Quarter Eagle followed suit in 1840.
Classic Head gold coins, as a whole, are quite scarce. This is due to three main reasons. First, there was relatively little demand for gold coins in general during this era. The largest coin an average American could expect to use was a half dollar; anything bigger than that represented a major expenditure. Gold coins were primarily used for banking transactions and reserves.
Secondly, as mentioned earlier, the Classic Head series was actively produced for just six years. Some series have low individual annual mintages, but since they were produced for many decades, they become common as a type. Classic Head gold pieces, meanwhile, had low annual mintages and an extremely short lifespan.
Thirdly, the coins were subject to two periods of mass melting. During the Civil War, the price of gold skyrocketed. Suddenly the average American gold coin had a higher melt value than its face value. As a result, untold quantities of U.S. gold coins were destroyed in the 1860s. Then, in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt banned the private ownership of gold coins and bullion. Vast quantities of American gold turns were redeemed, turned in, and melted.
Most surviving Classic Head gold coins are seen in heavily worn condition. They are typically seen in Very Fine or Extremely Fine condition. Many specimens exhibit signs of cleaning, damage or other signs of mishandling. Uncirculated pieces are quite rare and sell for thousands of dollars each. In high Mint State grades, one can expect to spend five figures per coin.
A very small number of proofs were struck. They are prohibitively rare and, when offered for sale, have fetched hundreds of thousands at auction. The famous King of Siam proof set, which was produced as a diplomatic gift, contained both a proof 1834 $2.50 Quarter Eagle and a proof 1834 $5 Half Eagle. This set sold privately within the past decade; it is believed to have changed hands for the incredible sum of $6-$9 million!