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    Description

    1795 Small Eagle Five Dollar, BD-1, MS62
    America's First Gold Coin

    1795 $5 Small Eagle MS62 NGC. Breen 2-C, Breen-6412, Bass-3035, BD-1, R.5. The 1795 Small Eagle five has long been--and always will be--sought after by collectors due to its status as the first gold coin struck by our Mint. But if one were able to know if a certain coin was among the very first pieces struck, that would add an extra level of historical significance. Thanks to exhaustive research by the late Harry W. Bass, Jr. and John Dannreuther, we are confident that the BD-1 die marriage was used prior to the other 11 die combinations employed to strike 1795 half eagles. And with fewer than 50 pieces believed extant in all conditions, ownership of a 1795 BD-1 can only be enjoyed by a few fortunate collectors.
    Amazingly, 12 die pairings were required to strike an estimated 8,707 to 12,106 Small Eagle fives dated 1795. This is testament to the fact that the early Mint was struggling with die sinking and hardening capabilities. Within a few years a single set of dies would be capable of producing at least 10 times as many coins as the first half eagle dies, thanks to American ingenuity and perseverance. In the meantime, dies were cracking and new dies were being prepared to assure fulfillment of newly appointed Mint Director Henry DeSaussure's delivery warrants for the year.
    The BD-1 die marriage is identifiable by its wide date and the imbedding of the flag of 5 in the date and the point of star 15 into the bust; the only use of this obverse die. The reverse die is attributable by the location of the upper leaf in relation to the N in UNITED, and was also paired with Obverse 2 to strike approximately 520 coins to create BD-2, an R.6 variety.
    Fortunately, the public in 1795 appreciated the importance--or perhaps novelty--of our nation's first gold coins and more were saved for posterity than with subsequent issues. Garrett-Guth (2006) suggest that approximately 6% of the original mintage has survived, compared to the typically less than 3% of other contemporary issues. That is not to say that many examples have survived in Uncirculated condition. In the late 1700s and early 1800s there were literally just a few collectors in America and the coins saved by the public were not afforded the same custodianship that would have been shown by a numismatist. Many were cleaned, others mounted in jewelry, and fewer than 100 pieces are believed to be extant in Uncirculated condition. The NGC Census Report shows a total of 22 pieces at the MS62 level with 24 grading finer (6/08). Those numbers include six coins designated as Prooflike. The story at PCGS is similar, with 29 coins graded as MS62 and only 20 finer. Both sets of data are surely skewed by multiple resubmissions of the same coins.
    As with most high grade Small Eagle fives, the fields show semiprooflikeness. On some pieces it is greater than seen on this piece, but it definitely gives the coin a gleam. Sharply struck overall, the only softness is seen on the highest point of the hair curls and in the center of the eagle's breast and right (facing) leg. A few light abrasions and tiny planchet flakes are scattered over each side, but none are singularly distracting. The bright yellow-gold color of the coin shows just the slightest overlay of reddish patina. (Registry values: P5) (NGC ID# 25ND, PCGS# 8066)

    Weight: 8.75 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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    Auction Dates
    Jul-Aug, 2008
    30th-3rd Wednesday-Sunday
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