1795 Small Eagle Five Dollar, MS65 Prooflike
1795 $5 Small Eagle MS65 Prooflike NGC. BD-6, R.5. S over D.
Bass-Dannreuther Obverse Die State d / Reverse State d. This
wonderful coin is a certified Gem Prooflike specimen of the popular
1795 Small Eagle five dollar Guide Book variety. These coins
are extremely important as the first gold coins of any denomination
struck at the U.S. Mint, and specialists and type collectors alike
accordingly pursue them with inordinate zeal. On this specific BD-6
die pairing, the 1 in the date is slightly to the right of and not
touching the lowest curl of hair, while star 1 shows a single point
touching the back portion of that same curl. The flag of the 5
overlies the drapery at the bust truncation. The 1, 7, and 5 in the
date are much taller than the 9. The 15 Star obverse has the stars
arranged 10 and 5 (as on all 1795 Small Eagles). A single point of
star 15 touches the forepart of the bust, and a point of star 11
nearly touches the Y in LIBERTY.
BD-6, The Finest Certified Prooflike Example
The reverse is easily identified by the S/D in STATES, making this a popular variety if not necessarily one that carries any added hefty premium; this is due to the issue's popularity overall (regardless of the particular variety) as a first-year type coin. The blundered reverse die was first used on the exceedingly rare (8-12 known) BD-5, in conjunction with a different obverse, and then the reverse was reused on the BD-6.
The reverse die of this variety, and to a lesser extent the obverse, shows numerous blundered "scoop marks" through the dentils. John Dannreuther writes about the BD-5 pairing:
"This reverse (and obverse) also was the inspiration for a new theory about how the dentils were produced on early U.S. coinage dies. Previously, researchers have assumed that the dentils, the teeth-like objects around the periphery of coins, were simply punched into the dies using either a single punch or a gang punch. A punch likely was only the first tool used, as each dentil seems to have been finished by scooping or engraving these ornaments. In fact, the drunken die cutter theory for this reverse (and obverse) may be true!"
Dannreuther continues in the same vein in a footnote about the Mint providing money for a daily beer allotment.
The combination of the various "scoop marks" on both sides of the present BD-6 variety, the blundered S/D on the reverse, and the advanced die states on both sides combine with the needle-sharp strike, prooflike surfaces and marvelous preservation to create a coin that is among the most fascinating artifacts of early U.S. Mint production.
The obverse shows "scoop marks" on dentils on each side of the L in LIBERTY, and from that further to the right, a small, wispy die crack connects with IB. At least 13 dentils on the obverse show scoop marks or similar anomalies. Another thin die crack runs from the rim to the drapery near star 15. Another crack runs from the rim to an outer point of star 4, and there appear to be a couple of small cracks starting to form near the centering dot in Liberty's hair.
The reverse shows even more goofs and blunders, with several of the scoop marks quite lengthy and sometimes joining with letters about the periphery: above D; a couple between (E)D and S(T); two each above TE(S); four above the last S; two long, curving ones between OF and A; one each on either side of the I in AMERICA. Complementing these blunders and the S/D are die cracks -- some light, some heavier -- connecting many of the letter tops.
Besides the 1795 Small Eagle fives, the Guide Book also lists the anachronistic 1795 Heraldic Eagle (or Large Eagle) reverse half eagles -- which in all likelihood were made in 1798, along with the Heraldic Eagle reverse 1797 7/5 overdate, the 1797 16 Star obverse, and the 1797 15 Star obverse varieties. Furthermore, all of the latter varieties' mintages are thought to be included in the figure of 24,867 half eagles manufactured for the year 1798.
As noted, the 1795 Small Eagle five dollar coins were the first gold coins of any denomination produced by the fledgling U.S. Mint. They were produced in the Mint's third year of operations after the first year, 1793, saw only copper cents and half cents produced, and the second year, 1794, saw the striking of the first silver coins as well as more copper. That the gold coinage was delayed to the third year is attributed to the onerous requirement for the assayer, chief coiner, and treasurer to post surety bonds of $10,000 each. The gold coins were struck only after the figure was reduced and the bonds posted.
The Bass-Dannreuther Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties lists an even dozen die pairings for the 1795 half eagles, a number that differs from some earlier studies suggesting 14 or even 16 1795 Small Eagle marriages. Of those dozen die marriages, their rarity factors range, according to Bass-Dannreuther, from High R.3 (175-225 known) for the BD-3 -- by far the most available -- to numerous ranked R.5, including the present BD-6 example, estimated at 60-80 surviving in all grades. At the extreme end of the rarity rankings, there are three die marriages of the 1795 Small Eagle rated at least R.7 (8-12 known), with one, the BD-11, rated High R.7 at 3-5 known.
Of course, if one adds the conditional rarity of this Gem Prooflike specimen to its rarity ranking, it increases exponentially. NGC has certified five non-Prooflike examples of the 1795 Small Eagle, all varieties, in MS65, with a single MS66 finer. Among Prooflike examples, this is the sole finest certified and only Gem Prooflike specimen at NGC. PCGS has certified two Gem non-Prooflike examples as the finest. The possibility of duplications in the data is highly likely.
This coin sparkles with mirrorlike fields on both sides. The greenish-gold surfaces are free of significant contact marks, although a small area of wispy lines appears near the obverse rim at stars 4 and 5. The strike is full throughout or virtually so, with amazingly well-detailed design elements on each side. There are no visible planchet adjustment marks anywhere, furthering the amazing appeal.
This coin is sure to elicit immense collector interest, given its historicity and incredible desirability. Census: 1 in 65 Prooflike, 1 finer (12/12). (NGC ID# 25ND, PCGS# 78066)
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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