The Coinage Act of 1792 authorized the construction of a mint building in Philadelphia and also authorized the production of coinage in ten different denominations. One of these was known as the half eagle, representing $5 and containing 123-6/8 grains (8.02 grams) pure or 135 grains (8.75 grams) standard gold. The coins were to carry an image emblematic of Liberty on the obverse and the figure or representation of an eagle with the inscription "United States of America" on the reverse.
The half eagles would actually represent the first gold coinageofficially struck by the United States Mint. The designs, which would also match the other gold denominations, featured a bust of Liberty on the obverse wearing a turban or cap. The reverse featured a small eagle within an open wreath with the required inscription surrounding.
As can be imagined these early gold coins are today quite scarce. This is due to low mintage levels and also a fair amount of melting which took place. At various times, the market value of gold exceeded the face value of the coins such that they could be profitably melted down.
Future series of half eagles would carry similar designs, with interpretations of Liberty by a number of different engravers. The longest running image was designed by Christian Gobrecht for the Liberty Head type issued from 1839 until 1908.
The final series for the denomination was the Indian Head type designed by Bela Lyon Pratt with an incuse design featuring a Native American.