1797 $10 Small Eagle MS63 NGC. BD-1, R.5....
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Rarest Small Eagle Date
Finest-Known Example, Ex: Amon Carter
The year 1797 was a transitional one for the highest gold denomination, as the reverse was changed to the Heraldic Eagle motif later in the year. Thus the 1797 is the last issue of the Small Eagle type, an important consideration for advanced type collectors. Only a single die variety is known for the 1797 Small Eagle ten, designated BD-1 in John Dannreuther's Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, while the Heraldic Eagle design of that year boasts three different varieties. The 1797 BD-1 obverse is quite distinctive, crowding 12 of the 16 stars on the left side of the coin, with just four on the right. Two points of star 1 actually touch the 1 in the date, and the remaining left-hand stars are tightly spaced in an arc reaching the top of Liberty's cap.
The unusual 12x4 obverse stars arrangement was noticed by numismatists at an early date, and catalogers began to take notice of it as early as the John F. McCoy Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 5/1864) where, judging from the description, lot 1932 might well be an early appearance of the present coin:
"1797 With small eagle reverse, four stars facing. This splendid piece is in almost proof condition and one of the rarest of the American gold series."
The lot realized $51 to Mendes I. Cohen, the highest price paid for any early eagle in the sale. The 1797 Small Eagle consistently brings high prices in its infrequent auction appearances. Recent sales include the attractive MS62 NGC specimen in lot 1527 of the Old West and Franklinton Collections (American Numismatic Rarities, 8/2006), which realized $276,000.
The mintage for the 1797 Small Eagle ten is recorded as a mere 3,615 pieces, but even this low production total may be too high. Die evidence shows that the reverse die was used first in 1796 to strike the early die states of the 1796 eagle. Then, the reverse die was combined with the 1797 obverse to strike the coins for that year. Afterward, the reverse was remarried with the 1796 obverse to produce the 1796-dated Bass-Dannreuther Die State d/c coins. Since some 1796-dated coins were minted after the 1797 issue, they may have been included in the mintage totals for the year. The 1797-dated eagles probably account for no more than 1,250 pieces of the reported mintage. PCGS currently estimates the surviving population at 50-60 pieces in all grades, which agrees closely with John Dannreuther's estimate of 55-65 coins still extant. PCGS has certified a total of 22 specimens, with a single example in MS60 condition, and the rest in circulated grades. NGC has recorded 28 submission events, with nine coins in various levels of Mint State, and this single MS63 example as the finest (11/12). These figures include an unknown number of resubmissions and crossovers.
The earliest appearance of the present coin that we can trace with any degree of certainty is lot 309 of the Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944). Mehl described the lot as:
"1797 The extremely rare variety with small eagle on reverse. Eleven stars to left and four to right of bust. Beautiful uncirculated specimen with brilliant semi-proof surface, almost equal to a brilliant proof. Listed at $175.00 in only very fine. This gem coin is worth at least double that."
Interestingly, Mehl counted the left-hand stars incorrectly, probably missing the first star that seems separate from the rest because it is joined to the date. Famous Fort Worth collector Amon Carter, Sr. purchased the coin for $290, not quite as much as Mehl was hoping for, but still a strong price at the time. The coin remained in the Carter Family Collection for almost four decades, until that remarkable gathering was sold by Stack's in January 1984. It recently appeared in a flurry of Goldberg sales before being offered here by our present consignor.
This spectacular Select specimen is the single-finest certified example of this rare issue and it occupies the number one position in Anthony Taraszka's list of Significant Specimens. The design elements are well-detailed, with just a touch of softness on Liberty's hair and the eagle's head, as always seen on this issue. There is a prominent obverse die break from the rim at 4:30 into the field, almost to Liberty's throat. This crack is seen on the great majority of 1797 Small Eagle coins, but Harry Bass had one example that did not show the feature. The attractive yellow and greenish-gold surfaces display the prooflike luster mentioned in the description in the Roach catalog, with only minor signs of contact. A few interesting planchet adjustment marks, as struck, are evident on the bust. This coin possesses terrific eye appeal, the highest available technical grade, and great historical interest. As the finest-known specimen, it should find a home in the finest collection or Registry Set.
Ex: Belden Roach Collection (B. Max Mehl, 2/1944), lot 309; Amon Carter, Sr.; Amon Carter, Jr.; Amon Carter Family Collection (Stack's, 1/1984), lot 730; Ohringer Family Trust Collection (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 9/2008), lot 1272; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Goldbergs, 2/2009), lot 1521; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Goldbergs, 5/2009), lot 1324; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Goldbergs, 9/2010), lot 2962; Pre-Long Beach Auction (Goldbergs, 1/2011), lot 2174.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 25ZX, PCGS# 8555)
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