Near-Gem 1795 BD-1 Eagle, Prooflike Surfaces

    1795 $10 13 Leaves MS64 NGC. Breen 1-A, Breen-6830, Taraszka-1, Bass-3169, BD-1, High R.3. The ten dollar gold pieces, given the name "eagle," were the largest gold coins produced by the first U.S. Mint from 1795 through 1804. Like all early gold coins, these pieces did not carry an actual denomination as part of the design. John Dannreuther explains: "The eagle was the second gold denomination struck by the United States Mint. Calling it a denomination is actually a misnomer. Even though a gold eagle was denominated as a ten-dollar coin, our forefathers traded gold by the tale. [Tale, in this instance, means count or tally, a number of things taken together (i.e., the weight and purity of an individual coin).] The weight and purity were the only things important to merchants and individuals--money was gold, and gold was money. In most cases, transactions of even a nominal sum had to be settled in gold, especially whenever governments were involved. There really was no need at first for a stated denomination on either gold or silver coins, because it was known that our coins would be under extreme scrutiny and would likely be assayed by foreign mints and others as to their weight and purity."
    A similar problem exists for both the half eagles and the eagles. For both denominations there were multiple varieties dated 1795 and only a single variety dated 1796, despite mintages that suggest this is illogical. During the course of 1795, just 2,795 eagles were minted from September 22 through November 27. In 1796, the Mint produced 6,934 eagles from January 9 through December 22. If we take these annual production totals at face value, an average of 560 coins per die marriage were struck in 1795 while a single die marriage produced all 6,934 coins in 1796. Clearly there is something wrong, unless many of the coins produced in 1796 were from dies dated 1795, and we can be certain that this was the case. According to the Guide Book, the 1795 mintage totaled 5,583 coins and the 1796 mintage totaled 4,146 coins, but even these figures are suspect, suggesting a survival rate of 10% for 1795 eagles and only 4% for 1796 eagles. This discussion illustrates the challenge that numismatists have today when attempting to reconstruct the events of the earliest years at the Philadelphia Mint. There were no records of mintages for individual die varieties, and any attempt to make such estimates today is plagued with problems.
    In his new reference, Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties, Dannreuther provides estimated mintages for every variety, as well as estimates of the number of survivors for each variety. The only thing we know for sure is the number of die marriages known from 1795 through 1804 (32) and the total mintage for that period (132,714 coins including 122 pieces reserved for assay). By using the midpoint of Dannreuther's survival estimates, we can also establish an approximate survival rate for the series of 2.5%. Is this enough information to establish original "mintage figures" for each variety or even for each coinage date? This cataloger has spent considerable effort over several years attempting to correlate mintage figures with individual varieties, and now feels that it is not possible. There are at least two variables that cannot accurately be determined. First, the exact emission sequence needs to be determined (including both die marriages and remarriages). In a series like the early eagles, the emission sequence alone is enough to give a numismatist nightmares. Once the emission order is known, an accurate estimate of the survivors must be established for each variety and remarriage, and this is nearly an impossibility. Finally, differing survival rates from one coinage date to the next must be pinpointed, a seemingly impossible task.
    The 1795 BD-1 is considered the first variety coined for the year, therefore it is the first eagle minted by the United States! There are more of these surviving today than all other 1795 varieties combined, and it is actually one of the five most common die varieties of the entire series from 1795 to 1804, a fact that would probably surprise most collectors. Quite a few examples survive in Mint State grades, giving collectors a reasonable chance of obtaining a high-quality example of the Small Eagle reverse design. Many of the Mint State pieces have prooflike fields, much like this coin does. Although the fields are not deeply mirrored, they are clearly reflective. The surfaces are exceptional and almost totally mark-free with only a few scattered abrasions. Faint adjustment marks are evident at the center of the obverse, and also on some of the obverse dentils. All of the design elements on both sides are sharply struck, suggesting to some the possibility that this may have been some type of presentation piece. This example is a relatively early die state of the variety, with faint obverse die cracks but no evidence of any reverse cracks. Despite the existence of several Mint State pieces, this example is one of the best we have handled. In fact, in our previous sales we have only handled two 1795 eagles in grades better than MS61! Census: 4 in 64, 4 finer (10/06).
    From The Freedom Collection.(Registry values: P5) (NGC ID# 25ZU, PCGS# 8551)

    Weight: 17.50 grams

    Metal: 91.67% Gold, 8.33% Copper

    Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.

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