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Remarkable 1795 Breen 1-C, BD-2 Half Eagle, MS64

1795 $5 Small Eagle MS64 NGC. Breen 1-C, Breen-6412, Bass-3034, BD-2, R.6. The 1795 half eagles were the first gold coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint, from dies prepared by Robert Scot. This design complied exactly with the law established by the Coinage Act of April 2, 1792, regarding obverse and reverse devices. Section 10 of that legislation stated: "Upon one side of each of the said coins there shall be an impression emblematic of liberty, with an inscription of the word Liberty, and the year of the coinage; and upon the reverse of each of the gold and silver coins there shall be the figure or representation of an eagle, with this inscription, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" The only additional embellishments were the stars on the obverse and the wreath and olive branch on the reverse.
In Numismatic Art in America, Cornelius Vermeule discussed this design at some length: "The industrious Robert Scot seems also to have created the bust of Liberty that dominated the gold coinage from 1795 until John Reich introduced his turbaned ladies in 1807 and 1808. His [Scot's] source could well have been an ideal, somewhat backward portrait of Martha Washington arrayed for an evening reception, a considerably more suave, tranquil presentation than that identified with the half-disme of 1792. The Liberty cap is a great tumultuous affair of soft felt, that somehow manages to tower amid a large, curled forelock and long, wavy tresses. It is hard to say what is cap and what is hair entwined about it. The face is flat, blunt, and thoroughly bourgeois. The draped bust is a truncated curiosity. Greco-Roman classicism has been misunderstood here, for this is the type of draped neck ordinarily found in ancient art when a marble bust has been created for insertion into the body of a draped statue. The entire presentation makes little sense as an immediate visual experience. Scot surely did not originate this form of classicism in the Federalist period; no doubt he adapted the design from some case after the antique or some contemporary marble by a sculptor of modest talents." After breaking down the Scot design, Vermeule continued by defending it: "Criticism comes easy, however, and it must not be overlooked that Robert Scot's first gold coinage has a positive character of its own, a healthy individuality and almost-rustic charm that conveys the message of a young nation seeking its identity as well as any monumental manifestation of the early arts in America."
An extensive coinage of gold took place during the earliest years at the Mint, with 12 die varieties for the 1795 Small Eagle half eagles and five more for the 1795 eagles. This variety, currently identified by the variety notation BD-2, is considered the second die marriage produced, probably in early August 1795. John Dannreuther suggested that this variety may have been among coins from Warrant 26, consisting of 520 pieces delivered on August 11. It is also a rare variety among 1795 half eagles. Harry Bass, who collected two dozen half eagles dated 1795, only found one example of this variety during his three decades of collecting gold coins. Only about 20 to 30 pieces are known from this die combination, and this example has the highest numerical grade of any. The surfaces have bright lemon-yellow color with splashes of rich honey-gold toning. Some unusual striations are visible in the lower obverse fields. Both sides are fully prooflike with several visible lint marks, suggesting that the planchet may have received special treatment before this piece was struck. Census: 3 in 64, 7 finer (10/08).(Registry values: P5) (NGC ID# 25ND, PCGS# 8066)

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Auction Dates
December, 2008
4th-6th Thursday-Saturday
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 6
Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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