1795 Capped Bust Right Eagle, BD-5, MS65
1795 $10 13 Leaves MS65 PCGS. BD-5, R.5. Bass-Dannreuther
Die State e/c. Just a handful of United States coins are alluring
and important enough to capture the attention and bidding activity
of people who do not even consider themselves coin collectors. The
coin offered here is just such a coin -- this truly spectacular
example of the first ever ten dollar gold piece released by
the United States Mint. As such, it is arguably the most
historically important United States gold coin ever issued.
Important First-Year Gold Issue, One of the Finest Known
First Public Auction Appearance in 26 Years
The 1795 Capped Bust Right eagle is a formidable rarity in Gem condition and the coin offered here is a truly spectacular example, with exceptional eye appeal to complement the high technical grade. Our Auction Archives indicate we have offered only one example of this landmark issue in MS65 before, the NGC-graded specimen in lot 5871 of our Chicago Signature (Heritage, 8/2013), which realized $675,625. Heritage Auctions is privileged to present this delightful Gem, one of the finest known examples, in its first public offering since 1988.
Many problems beset the United States Mint after its establishment in 1792. One of the most serious was the inability of Chief Coiner Henry Voigt and Assayer Albion Cox to meet the bonds required by the Mint Act of 1792. The act stipulated:
"That the said assayer, chief coiner and treasurer, previously to entering upon the execution of their respective offices, shall each become bound to the United States of America, with one or more sureties to the satisfaction of the Secretary of the Treasury, in the sum of ten thousand dollars, with condition for the faithful and diligent performance of the duties of his office."
Ten thousand dollars was an enormous sum for the average person in 1792. Both Voigt and Cox found it impossible to fulfill this condition until Mint Director David Rittenhouse convinced Congress to lower the bonds in 1794, and loaned them enough money to meet the reduced surety.
Even after the bonds were posted, many difficulties remained before the Mint could strike gold coins, and Director Rittenhouse retired, due to poor health, before any gold coins were struck. His successor, Henry William de Saussure, made the issue of gold coinage his main priority when he took office in July of 1795. The five dollar half eagle was deemed more useful in international commerce than either the quarter eagle or the eagle because its value closely approximated several foreign gold coins, including English guineas and sovereigns, French Louis d'or and 24 livres, and Portuguese 4000 reis and two escudos pieces. As a result, the half eagles were struck first, with the first delivery of 744 coins accomplished on July 31, 1795.
Coinage of eagles commenced in late September, with the first delivery of 1,097 coins on September 22 and continuing throughout the year. The accepted mintage figure for the 1795 eagle is 5,583 pieces, but records indicate only 2,795 coins were actually delivered in calendar year 1795. Most experts believe the 2,788 pieces delivered in the first three months of 1796 were actually struck from 1795-dated dies because all 1796-dated eagles have 16 stars on the obverse, indicating the dies were produced after Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796. The frequency of appearance of the two dates in modern times more or less supports this conclusion. Eagles continued to be produced in small numbers until 1804, but they were never the coin of choice in large international transactions because the higher value Spanish doubloons were more effective in that role. After 1804, the shift in value of gold vs. silver on the world market made exportation of American gold coins profitable, and coinage of eagles was suspended.
Although Capped Bust Right eagles were minted until 1804, the Small Eagle reverse was replaced by the Heraldic Eagle motif after only three years, making the Small Eagle a short-lived, sought-after design type. Chief Engraver Robert Scot prepared three obverse and three reverse dies for eagle coinage in 1795 and these dies were combined to produce five different die varieties for the date. The present coin represents the rare BD-5 variety, with the bust overlapping the 5 in the date, star 11 away from Y in LIBERTY, and the leaf distant from U in UNITED on the reverse. Of the five varieties of the 1795 Capped Bust Right eagle, only the famous Nine Leaves, BD-3 variety is seen less often than the BD-5. No more than 35-45 examples of the BD-5 survive today in all grades and it probably accounted for 500-1,000 pieces of the estimated mintage. This was the third, and final, use of the obverse die, which had been used earlier to strike the BD-2 and BD-3 varieties of the date. Similarly, the reverse die had been combined with another obverse to strike the BD-4 variety of 1795, before its final use on this variety. The BD-5 was definitely the final 1795 Small Eagle variety struck, as both dies show cracks and extensive evidence of lapping from their previous use. The obverse stars were so attenuated from repeated lapping that Walter Breen (and others) believed this was a completely different die from the one used to strike the BD-2 coins.
As the first year of issue of the largest gold coin struck by the United States in its formative years, the 1795 eagle has always been a favorite of both type collectors and series specialists. The date began appearing at auction as early as lot 169 of the A.C. Kline Sale (Moses Thomas & Sons, 6/1855). Early collectors paid little attention to die varieties, but some specialists, like John Colvin Randall, began to study the different die marriages by the 1870s. When he sold the gold portion of his collection through prominent coin dealer W. Elliot Woodward in June of 1885, Randall had identified four of the five varieties for the 1795 eagle (he was not familiar with the rare BD-3, Nine Leaves variety). Like Walter Breen in later years, Randall noticed the attenuated stars on his BD-5 coin, describing the piece in lot 844 as:
"1795 No. 4; small stars; reverse, eagle with olive wreath; very rare variety."
The study of die varieties of gold coins advanced slowly over the years, with scholars like Edgar Adams, Howard Newcomb, and Silas Wodell contributing much to our understanding of die varieties after the turn of the century. Wodell displayed three varieties of the 1795 eagle at the 1914 ANS Exhibition, including an example of the BD-5. Walter Breen reports super-collector Waldo Newcomer included an especially nice Uncirculated specimen of the BD-5 in his famous collection, inventory number 435. There are two MS65 examples of the BD-5 known to collectors today, the present coin and the example from the Eliasberg Collection that was sold in Heritage Auctions' August 2013 Chicago Signature. Since the Eliasberg coin was in the Clapp Collection throughout Newcomer's collecting life, it is possible that the Newcomer citation represents an early appearance of this coin, but other scenarios are definitely possible.
A survey of current population data reveals some interesting facts. The finest certified example at either of the leading grading services is an MS66 PCGS-graded specimen. We can find no auction appearance of any MS66 graded coin, despite a diligent search of auction data bases. It seems certain that this coin has been off the market for a long period of time, and its owner submitted it for grading sometime after its last auction appearance. The cataloger of lot 4039 in the Baltimore ANA Auction (Bowers and Merena, 7/2003) mentions the MS66 PCGS coin in the description, so it must have been submitted for certification prior to that date. This coin is obviously in strong hands and may not appear on the market for many years.
Currently, PCGS has certified three coins in MS65 and NGC has graded two specimens in Gem condition (6/14). The PCGS CoinFacts website includes photos of the three MS65 coins in their census, including the present coin, and they are obviously all different examples. However, one of the images is a definite plate match for the MS65 NGC coin in the Eliasberg / Heritage August 2013 Chicago Signature Sales. This coin has obviously been crossed over and we believe it still appears in the population data from both services. Therefore, there are only four 1795 Capped Bust Right eagles in Gem condition, an extremely small supply to satisfy collector demand in this age of Registry Set popularity. Two of the MS65 specimens are the more common BD-1 variety and two (this coin and the Eliasberg specimen) represent the rare BD-5 variety. Unless the MS66 PCGS coin (variety unknown) also represents the BD-5 variety, this piece is tied for finest-certified honors of this rare die marriage.
The history of the present coin is something of a mystery. It was obviously saved and well-cared for at the time of issue, possibly as a souvenir or memento of the first year of American gold coinage. It may well be the coin from the Newcomer Collection, as mentioned above, but that is speculation. We have found just one prior auction appearance of this piece, in Stack's Public Auction Sale of October 5, 1988. The coins in this impressive collection were selected and acquired by the famous U.S. gold coin expert and connoisseur, David Akers. Akers undertook this project on behalf of a group of collectors who wanted to build "a joint collection that would be unsurpassed in rarity and quality." Akers described the gold coins for Stack's, according to the catalog. His description of this piece in lot 114 includes the following:
"A truly remarkable coin that ranks as one of the finest examples of this first year of issue ever to be offered for sale at public auction. This coin is fully struck and perfectly centered on an excellent planchet. It has superb original mint luster and marvelous rich gold and copper toning. There is a very small abrasion on the reverse rim above the second T in STATES but the surfaces of the coin, especially on the reverse, are just outstanding."
The lot realized $82,500, an outstanding price at the time. We have little to add to Akers' comments, except to note the appearance of several interesting die cracks through the tops of the letters on the reverse and some faint remnants of planchet adjustment marks on the obverse rim between 3 and 4 o'clock that are difficult to see without magnification. As always seen on the BD-5, some detail in the stars and the feathers on the eagle's left (facing) thigh is incomplete due to lapping, despite the sharp strike.
The entire staff at Heritage Auctions has enjoyed the chance to view and catalog this legendary coin - one of the finest known examples of the first ten dollar gold pieces issued by the United States Mint. This coin possesses an unbeatable combination of high technical grade, conditional rarity, exemplary eye appeal, and perhaps most importantly, unsurpassed historical importance. It should find a home in the finest collection or Registry Set.
Ex: Public Auction Sale (Stack's, 10/1988), lot 114, realized $82,500.(Registry values: P5) (NGC ID# 25ZU, PCGS# 8551)
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