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Momentous 1797 Small Eagle, 15 Stars Five Dollar
BD-2, R.7, The Finest Certified
Only Mint State Example

1797 $5 Small Eagle, 15 Stars MS60 NGC. Breen-6419, BD-2, R.7. Bass-Dannreuther Obverse Die State unrecorded / Reverse Die State d. The 1795 half eagles were the first U.S. gold coins, produced in the third year of official U.S. Mint coinage and under the second and third Mint directors, William Henry DeSaussure and Elias Boudinot, respectively. The celebrated inventor-scientist-mathematician David Rittenhouse had retired as Mint director in June 1795, and DeSaussure replaced him in July. President Washington personally appointed DeSaussure, a South Carolinian, giving him the twin tasks of beginning the gold coinage and improve the designs on silver coinage. DeSaussure nonetheless served only until September, citing illness and "disaffection with the office," to be replaced in turn with the doughty Boudinot, who served with vigor and distinction until 1805.
Of the four dated years for the Draped Bust, Small Eagle gold five dollar, the first, 1795 issue is by far the most available overall--even though some individual varieties are quite rare. There are 12 known varieties for the 1795 Draped Bust, Small Eagle fives, and three known for the 1795 Draped Bust, Large Eagle fives. Of the 12 1795 Small Eagle pairings, Harry W. Bass, Jr. owned examples of all 12 varieties, including duplicates of some.
The three 1795 Draped Bust, Large Eagle die marriages are more elusive overall, and one of them, the BD-13, is unique, a die marriage that Bass never had a chance to buy.
The 1796/5 five dollar pieces with the Draped Bust, Small Eagle design all fall within a single known die marriage, rated High R.4. Bass owned a couple of examples of that die pairing.
The 1797 Draped Bust, Small Eagle fives break down into four die pairings, which range from very rare to extremely rare to unique, in the case of the BD-4, one of the two known 1797 16 Stars obverse, Small Eagle reverse pairings.
The 1797 15 Stars obverse, Small Eagle reverse fives are also found in two die pairings, the BD-1 and BD-2, both of which are rated extremely rare. The BD-1 is known as the 15 Star, Wide Date, while the present coin is an example of the BD-2, or 15 Star, Narrow Date.
The same reverse die was paired with the Wide Date and Narrow Date obverses. On the obverse of this variety, the date is narrow (of course) and spaced 1 797, with the two 7s long and the 9 between them noticeably shorter at the bottom. The 15 stars are arranged 10 left, five right around the rim. The flag of the 1 in the date and a tip of star 1 approach the lowest hair curls, and the 1 is centered over a dentil. The wreath on the reverse shows only one berry on the left outside.
The obverse appears to be in a die state unrecorded in Bass-Dannreuther. There is no evidence of the "Obverse State b" cracks from the edge along the back of the head, between star 1 and the curl, to the edge between star 1 and the date. On the other hand, the dentils at the bottom obverse are noticeably thinning, and a prominent die crack nearly bisects the obverse vertically, beginning at the top of the Liberty cap and continuing downward to the top of the drapery. Perhaps this is the terminal obverse die state, with the State b cracks lapped off of the die?
The reverse is certainly close to the terminal state, with a particularly heavy bisecting crack from the rim through I in UNITED, the bottom of both wings, and back to the rim between ER. Another runs from the rim at 6 o'clock up through the leaves and branch to the eagle. Yet another runs from the E in STATES downward onto the wreath. These three cracks constitute a reverse die about to shatter into four pie-shaped wedges.
The Mint State grade is one we concur with, although it obviously requires some elaboration. Full mint luster appears throughout both sides, and there are no signs of wear or cabinet friction. Moderate adjustment marks cross the center obverse, mixing with some post-Mint contact visible primarily in the obverse fields. We note a few thin scrapes before Liberty's profile. Three small voids on the obverse were likely in the original planchet, as produced at the Mint. The small die lump to the left of the juncture of the cap and the highest hair curl is also present on the Bass-Dannreuther plate coin. The reverse is comparatively free of contact, although the strike through the center is weak, a challenge compounded by the obverse adjustment marks that thinned the planchet a touch. Interestingly, some traces of prooflikeness appear in a couple of small protected areas on the obverse. The color is a lovely greenish-gold, with accents of hazel on the reverse.
This piece appears to be the finest of any of the eight examples we are aware of. Both the King Farouk-Norweb-Bass and Byron Reed collections contained AU55 PCGS examples, although now the PCGS population shows two AU58 pieces that could be the same coins resubmitted. The NGC online Census Report show only this single specimen for the finest graded of the 1797 15 Stars, Small Eagle type, which would include both the BD-1 and BD-2 varieties.
The importance of this offering to early gold specialists can simply not be overstated.(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# BFWW, PCGS# 8069)

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Auction Dates
August, 2010
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 9
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