The Art Behind the Liberty Head $10.00 of 1838

While other denominations of gold coins were struck with minimal breaks in production, the ten dollar gold piece was deemed not necessary or convenient for 34 years between 1804 and 1838. Its relevancy to the channels of commerce was revived by two mint provisions of the mint act that was passed in January 1837. The first changed the legal fineness of all gold coins from the awkward standard of .9167 gold and .0833 copper to .900 gold and .100 copper. The second section of the mint act (actually Section 10) provided a reduction in the weight of these coins: ‘ … the weight of the eagle shall be two hundred and fifty eight grains …’ The previous weight for ten dollar gold pieces had been 270 grains. This 12-grain reduction was enough to make it unprofitable to melt U.S. gold coins, thus ensuring these pieces would actually circulate.Benjamin_west_omnia_vincit_amor_1809.jpg

Christian Gobrecht was Assistant Engraver at the mint at that time. It fell to him to redesign the new gold coins, and his designs from 1838 were minimally altered until major changes occurred in 1907 and 1908. Gobrecht apparently copied the head of Venus in Benjamin West’s painting Omnia Vincit Amor. According to Breen, he slightly changed the headdress ‘but with the same triple-beaded cord on her bun, and the same coronet (here inscribed LIBERTY).’ Only 7,200 business strikes were produced in 1838 (plus four proofs), and high grade survivors are rarely encountered.

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