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1797 Capped Bust Right Half Eagle, AU50
Celebrated Rare Early Date
BD-3 Variety, 16 Stars

1797 $5 Small Eagle, 16 Stars AU50 PCGS Secure. BD-3, R.6. Bass-Dannreuther Die State a/c. The reported mintage of half eagles for 1797 was a meager 3,609 pieces, with four die varieties known for the date. The 1797 is known in two obverse subtypes, one with 15 stars and the other with 16 stars, reflecting the admission of Tennessee to the Union on June 1, 1796. All varieties are very rare, with one, the BD-4, currently considered unique. The present coin represents the more available BD-3 variety, with a 16 star obverse and the two berries outside the wreath on the reverse. Calling the BD-3 "available" is quite deceptive, as the surviving population numbers no more than 20-25 pieces in all grades. This variety probably accounted for 1,000-1,500 pieces of the reported mintage, based on the number of survivors known today.
The rarity of the 1797 half eagle was appreciated by collectors at an early date, and the two obverse subtypes were recognized by catalogers from the earliest days of the hobby. An example of both types appeared in the Sixth Semi-Annual Sale (W. Elliot Woodward, 3/1865), where lots 2748 and 2749 read:

"2748 1797 Small eagle; rev. fifteen stars; fine and excessively rare.
"2749 1797 Sixteen stars (small eagle reverse); exceedingly fine, and as rare as the last."

Woodward's curious wording makes it seem as if the 15 stars were located on the reverse on the coin in lot 2748, but this is undoubtedly just a lapse in grammar, as none of the varieties are known with reverse stars. Lot 2748 realized $22 to Mendes I. Cohen, and lot 2749 brought $25 to J.O. Emery. The 1797 16 Stars half eagle appears at auction less than once per year, on average, and each appearance inspires intense competition from date, type, and variety collectors. Recent sales include the attractive AU53 NGC example in lot 4700 of the Summer FUN Signature (Heritage, 7/2011), which realized $132,250.
The coin offered here is a lightly circulated example from a late state of the dies. An extensive network of die cracks is evident on the reverse, including the four major cracks detailed in the Bass-Dannreuther reference. The reverse die was close to failure when this coin was struck. The design elements are well-detailed, showing only light wear on the devices, and the pleasing greenish-gold surfaces retain traces of original mint luster. A few minor contact marks are consistent with the grade. Population: 1 in 50, 9 finer (11/12).(Registry values: P7) (NGC ID# BFWY, PCGS# 8068)

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Auction Dates
January, 2013
Internet/Mail/Phone Bidders: 13
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