Q. David Bowers (edited and updated by Mike Sherman): Following the Act of June 28, 1834, which mandated a reduction in weight and composition of gold coins, the half eagle was redesigned by William Kneass, chief engraver of the Philadelphia mint. Known as the “Classic Head” style, the new 1834 issue is a cousin to the quarter eagle of the same date. The obverse depicts the head of Liberty facing left, her hair secured by a band inscribed LIBERTY, with stars circling her head and with the date below.
The reverse shows an eagle with a shield on its breast, perched on an olive branch and holding three arrows. In inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 5 D. surrounds. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM, used earlier, was discontinued. Half eagles of this style were produced at the Philadelphia Mint continuously from 1834 through 1838 and at Charlotte and Dahlonega in 1838 only. Most of the mintage was accomplished at Philadelphia. The branch mint issues are rare.
Collectors can readily obtain examples of Philadelphia issues of this type in grades from Very Fine through About Uncirculated. Lower grade uncirculated pieces, while not cheap, can be had for a price. High grade Uncs, (above MS-64) are just plain rare, and run well into five-figures. Most examples are not sharply struck on the higher parts of the obverse.
-- Reprinted with permission from "United States Coins by Design Types - An Action Guide for the Collector and Investor" by Q. David Bowers