1795 Small Eagle Five Dollar, MS64, Very Rare BD-2 Die Pairing
1795 $5 Small Eagle MS64 NGC. Breen-6412, BD-2, R.6.
Although collectors today tend to think of the fabulously rare half
eagles of the 1810s and 1820s -- the 1815 and 1822 chief among them
-- when thinking about the mass meltings of the 1830s that
virtually extinguished certain issues, the same principle applies
to earlier coins such as the 1795 Small Eagle fives. Their high
intrinsic value, coupled with rising gold prices during the period
1795-1834, meant that by the early 1830s they were worth more
melted than their nominal or face value.
The First U.S. Mint Gold Coin Issue
The half eagle was the most important gold denomination to the early U.S. Mint, which had opened for coinage only two years before, in 1793, so it was fitting that once various procedural difficulties were cleared up -- surety bonds for key employees -- that the 1795 Small Eagle coins would be the first gold to fall from the presses. Minted to the extent of 8,707 coins, the 1795 Small Eagles fall into 12 different die marriages. Of those 12, only the BD-3, at High R.3, can be considered "merely" somewhat scarce, while the other 11 range from rare to exceedingly rare. The present coin, BD-2, is a very rare variety with the R.6 rarity rating. It is also a conditional as well as absolute rarity at the near-Gem level.
Such a large number of die pairings is testament not only to the extreme difficulty that the early Mint had in producing viable coinage dies, but also to their relative lack of durability, susceptible to sudden cracks and rapid failures.
The BD-2 has a unique obverse shared with no other variety of the year: The tip of the 5 barely touches the drapery, while star 1 is below and touching the lowest curl. But the most easy diagnostic is star 11 overlying the Y of LIBERTY and star 12 as well. The reverse shows a leaf merging into the bottom of U and the left base of N, and the wreath has four berries, two inside, two out.
This high-grade survivor shows bright semireflective fields on each side, a feature seen on several Uncirculated 1795 fives. This is undoubtedly from the use of numerous die pairings, and is explainable because the initial die polish never had the chance to diminish before a die was retired and another one put on the press. The strike details are remarkable for a Small Eagle five. All of the hair curls are complete on Liberty, and the eagle's head is similarly fully defined on the reverse. The bright yellow-gold surfaces show an accent of light red that makes for an attractive color combination. Both sides are free from any mentionable post-striking impairments. However, there are a couple of Mint-made imperfections, most notably a curved planchet flaw or strike-through in front of Liberty's nose -- an important identifier when tracing the pedigree of this high-grade early gold type coin. Census: 2 in 64, 8 finer (finest a single MS66) (4/11).
From The Virginia Beach Collection.(Registry values: P5) (NGC ID# 25ND, PCGS# 8066)
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