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Description

1795 BD-8 Half Eagle, MS63 Prooflike
Small Eagle Reverse

1795 $5 Small Eagle MS63 Prooflike NGC. BD-8, R.5. Bass-Dannreuther Obverse State a / Reverse State a. The 1795 Small Eagle five dollar coins come in 12 different die pairings that are known today, although in earlier times numismatists believed that 14 or 16 varieties existed, all told. Famed collector-researcher Harry W. Bass, Jr. collected early gold coins not only by die variety but by die state as well, and he was unable to discover more than 12 varieties of 1795 Small Eagle fives. As J.W. Dannreuther writes in their joint reference, " ... he owned more than 20 examples of this date and his notes were quite complete."
The 1795 Small Eagle five dollar coins were the first gold coins produced by the fledgling U.S. Mint, in its third year of operation after numerous bureaucratic obstacles to the coining of gold had been satisfied. The gold half eagle and silver half dollar coins were the workhorses of the early U.S. Mint, and by 1798 the yearly output of five dollar gold pieces approached 25,000 coins. (The second-year output of silver half dollars, in 1795, was nearly 300,000 pieces -- but mintages of any particular denomination were quite sporadic in early Mint history.)
The large number of die pairings known for the 1795 gold half eagles reflects a couple of tendencies at the early Mint:

--the difficulty Mint personnel had in producing serviceable dies that would harden sufficiently without breaking, and consequently
--the tendency to use (and reuse) any workable coinage dies when needed -- regardless of whether the date on the die matched the current year; regardless of the exact state of the dies (save that they were serviceable); and irrespective of the design features of the die, i.e. Small Eagle versus Heraldic Eagle.


The tendency to "mix and mismatch" dies at the early Mint is the explanation for several anomalous productions, such as the 1795-dated half eagles with Heraldic Eagle reverse dies (BD-13 through BD-15), likely minted in 1798; the polar opposite of the previous coins, the 1798-dated five dollar coins with Small Eagle reverse (by that year the Heraldic Eagle reverse had attained currency), of which seven are known; and, lastly, the reported mintage of only 8,707 half eagle coins spread among the 12 varieties, which works out to only 725 coins per die pairing.
Despite the reported mintage, John Dannreuther believes that the total 1795 half eagles struck could be as much as 50% more, or in excess of 12,000 coins, which would work out to 1,000 coins average for each die marriage.
The present BD-8 is rated High R.5 in rarity by Bass-Dannreuther, or 40 to 60 examples surviving today. This places it as a middling rarity within the series, although several other 1795 Small Eagles are rated in the R.6 and even R.7 range. The date is quite narrow, with the 1 just free of the hair and the flag of the 5 well up on the bust truncation. A single point each of star 1 and star 10 point to the curl and cap, respectively. (This obverse was used first on this die pairing, then for the BD-9 and BD-10 combinations, then evidently put in storage until it was redeployed to produce the unique BD-13 1795 Large Eagle five, in either 1797 or 1798.) On the reverse there are three berries in the wreath, with none on the inside left and the one on the outside left high. (The reverse was also reused, heavily lapped, for the extremely rare 1798 Small Eagle five, BD-1.)
No adjustment marks appear on either side, and the strike is impressively sharp in most areas, including the stars, cap, and eagle's feathers. Only a touch of softness occurs on Liberty's hair by the ear, but most of the individual strands show fine detail. The surfaces are bright yellow-gold with hints of green and show prooflike reflectivity on both sides. A few minor contact marks are in concert with the Select grade, but it is the prooflike surfaces that are this coin's chief calling card. A splendid example of this historic first-year U.S. Mint gold issue. Census: 4 in 63 Prooflike, 2 finer (12/11). (NGC ID# 25ND, PCGS# 78066)

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Auction Dates
February, 2012
2nd-5th
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