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Elusive 1796/5 BD-1 Half Eagle, XF451796/5 $5 Small Eagle XF45 PCGS. Breen-6418, BD-1, High R.4. In Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, A Study of Die States, 1795-1834, John Dannreuther rates the 1796/5 half eagle as High R.4, with an estimate of 80 to 100 known examples surviving today. Our experience is different, and we feel that Dannreuther was liberal in his estimate of survivors. Prior to the present offering, we have only handled 12 examples in the last 16 years since the beginning of our Permanent Auction Archives, and only half of those pieces were unimpaired like the present specimen. Our opinion is that fewer than 50 half eagles bearing the 1796/5 overdate are still in existence today.
A comparison of mintage figures suggests that 1796 half eagles, with 6,196 coins struck, should be only slightly less rare than 1795 half eagles with 8,707 coins struck. However, mintage figures do little to explain the inner workings of the Philadelphia Mint in the 1790s. For the production of 1795-dated half eagles, the Mint made use of eight obverse dies and nine reverse dies in 12 combinations. Following that coinage, they used an extra 1795 obverse die that was overdated, along with a reverse die that had already been used, to produce the entire 1796-dated coinage from a single die combination. Novice collectors might assume that the 12 1795-dated varieties had an average mintage of 725 coins per die marriage, while more than 6,000 coins were struck from a single die the very next year.
A better interpretation of the 1795 and 1796 half eagle coinage is explained through the use of 13 die combinations to produce 14,903 coins, for an average of almost 1,150 coins per die marriage. Therefore, 1,150 pieces is the estimated mintage for 1796-dated half eagles. A second interpretation is the survival rate method. Our estimated current survival quantity reveals that about 3.6% of the original 1795-96 mintage still exists, yielding an estimated 1796 half eagle mintage of 1,377 coins. Either interpretation of the mintage figures will show that the 1796 half eagle is much rarer than 1795, and substantially undervalued today.
This lovely green-gold example has smooth surfaces with exceptional eye appeal. Only a few faint abrasions and tiny blemishes are evident, and they are consistent with the PCGS assigned XF45 grade. In fact, this is an exceptional piece for the XF45 grade, and appears to be a borderline AU example with considerable luster remaining on each side.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# 7KNJ, PCGS# 8067)
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