1798 FIVE DOLLARS
OR HALF EAGLE -
Plain Eagle on Reverse
(see also 1798 Half Eagle -
Eagle and Shield on Reverse)
PCGS No: 8071
Circulation strikes: Unknown
Designer: Robert Scot
Diameter: ±25 millimeters
Gold - 91.7%
Silver and Copper - 8.3%
Weight: ±135 grains (8.748 grams)
Mintmark: None (all dates of
this type were struck at the Philadelphia mint)
can only speculate why such a coin was struck. The Philadelphia Mint
seemed to be operating in chaos during the first few years, if the half
eagles are any reflection of their operating methods. Just think of the
changes taking place; once Tennessee joined the Union on June 1, 1796,
obverse dies needed 16 stars crammed onto them, up from 15 used in
1794-96. The Mint had prepared obverse dies in advance with 15 stars, and
left off the final digit pending use. It is reasonable to conclude that at
least two 1797 obverse dies were engraved in 1795 or early 1796 (with 15
obverse stars) and had the final 7 engraved when needed in 1797. Later, a
16 star obverse die was used, but the timing is uncertain if it was before
or after the 15 star obverse dies were used. For 1797 in half dimes 15, 16
and 13 star obverse dies were used, for dimes both 16 and 13 star
obverses. Needless to say, the changeover to new designs and star counts
was accomplished as dies cracked or were worn out, not when the new
designs were adopted."
"In 1798 the star counts continued to show a variety of changes, on
silver dollars 1798s are known with 15 obverse stars and a small eagle
reverse as well as a 13 star obverse with a small eagle reverse, but most
known are the new 13 star obverse with large heraldic eagle reverse. On
dimes, some are known with both sixteen or thirteen star reverses for
1798. On half eagles, virtually all 1798s are the heraldic eagle reverse
except for the 7 known with the small eagle reverse. Another curiosity
from 1798 is the 1795 heraldic eagle reverse half eagle, which must have
been struck sometime in 1797 or later, again using leftover dies."
"Apparently the Mint
was simply taking orders, the supervisor would come in and need a group of
half eagles struck, two dies were taken off the shelf, the coins struck,
the dies returned and the coins delivered. Die steel was scarce and very
expensive, the Philadelphia Mint couldn't afford to throw away out of date
dies, or dies with old designs or last years date, it simply didn't
matter, the dies were used until they fell apart. Don't forget to throw
into the mix the annual closing of the Mint for the yellow fever epidemic,
which was quite severe in 1797, enough so that reopening of the Mint
didn't occur until late 1797. Breen logically assumes that these 1798
small eagles were produced in late 1797 and delivered January 4, 1798 or
early in 1798 and delivered February 28, 1798. Either way, as Breen notes,
we are unlikely to have a definitive answer to the question of when
exactly they were produced, what is much more important is how many
survive. To this we know far more, there have been seven known specimens
for decades including the Garrett coin missing from the original Breen
roster (1966). No rumor of an eighth specimen has been heard."
the decades have always loved this variety. At a glance one notices the
heavy ridge along the base of the date, apparently a compass guide line
deeply carved into the die so the half-blind engraver Robert Scot could
line up the digits in the date, and also to help him place the dentils
around the edge. One can imagine the scene back in Philadelphia 202 years
ago, it was winter, cold and miserable in the Mint, the dimly lit
engraving room with a table covered with metal punches. The room heat was
most likely from the glowing forge fires used to heat the die steel for
engraving. Scot must have been the only available person that day to
engrave dies, Breen attributes many of the botched engravings to him and
his lack of artistic talent. Curiously, the digits are of varying sizes,
the 9 and 8 are clearly not of the same set of punches, with the 9
substantially smaller. Scot's artistic talents were challenged by the size
of the head punch of Liberty, therefore he squeezed 8 stars on the left
and LIBERTY and 5 more stars on the right, giving the coin an unbalanced
appearance. The reverse is more balanced artistically, with the graceful
eagle holding the laurel wreath above his head, perched on the palm
- from the description of
Lot 1290 in Ira
& Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles' "Dr. Jon Kardatzke" sale, June 2000
Images courtesy of Ira
& Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles
Note - much of the information
in the following list of known 1798 "Small Eagle" Half Eagles
was supplied by Saul Teichman. The list offered here improves and
amends the lists provided in the Eliasberg (1982) and Goldberg (2000)
catalogs, which appear to include several errors:
1. About Uncirculated.
Raymond L. Caldwell - Flanagan - Farouk - Baldenhofer - the Pogue family
collection. Pictured (poorly) in the April
1935 issue of the Numismatist, page 212. (Partial pedigree per
Stack's "Baldenhofer" and Bowers' "Eliasberg"
catalogs). According to John Dannreuther, the listing of James A.
Stack as an owner of this coin is an error, as are the Ten Eyck and
Newcomer citations listed in the Baldenhofer sale catalog. This is the Col. Green photographic library
example, but Dannreuther believes that Green never owned this coin -- it
was subsituted by Weihman, who purchased Green's half eagles intact and
"upgraded" this piece with the Flanagan coin. This coin was graded Very Fine in the Flanagan sale, but
a recent examination using "modern" grading standards resulted
in a higher opinion of the grade.
2. PCGS EF-40
(illustrated above). John Dannreuther - Dr. Gene Sherman (via
Tony Terranova) - Dr. Jon Kardatzke (via Tony Terranova and Dave
Liljestrand) - Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles'
"Dr. Richard Ariagno" sale, May 1999 (unsold) - Ira &
Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles "Dr. Jon Kardatzke"
sale, June 2000, Lot 1290 @ $264,5000.00. Planchet flake at second T
in STATES. Teichman suspects that this coin may be the Atwater
specimen (see #8 below), as the Atwater coin appears to have a flat second
'T' in 'STATES'.
3. Extremely Fine. Joseph
J. Mickley - William Sumner Appleton - T. Harrison Garrett - Robert
Garrett - John Work Garrett - Johns Hopkins University - Bowers &
Ruddy's " Garrett I" sale, Lot 437 - Auction 83 - Kevin Lipton -
Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries - mystery buyer.
4. Choice Very Fine.
B. Max Mehl in 1924 - John H. Clapp - Louis Eliasberg - Bowers &
Ruddy's "United States Gold Coin Collection" sale, 1982, Lot 330
- Bass - Harry W. Bass Research Foundation.
5. Very Fine. B.
Max Mehl's sale of the " Ten Eyck" collection, 1922, Lot 166, $5,250.00
- Waldo Newcomer - Stack's sale of the " Davis-Graves" collection - C.
T. Weihman - Lilly - Smithsonian. This example has many scratches,
especially a thin scratch through Liberty's cap visible on the plates of
all the above sales and it has had a scratch in the right obverse field
smoothed. This example is the one plated in the Ten Eyck and
Davis-Graves sales and is also on Mehl's Newcomer plates. This coin
is attributed to Col. Green in Cory Gillilland's Sylloge as are
many Weihman/Lilly coins, some possibly in error. This is NOT the
one on the Col. Green plates nor is it the Baldenhofer coin. (Please note
that the Col. Green plates usually only show one coin per variety). Click
here to see an image of this coin
6. Very Fine.
Lorin G. Parmelee, Lot 758 - Woodside - Smithsonian. Scratched
here to see an image of this coin
7. Very Fine. John
Butler - Earle, $3000.00 - Col. James W. Ellsworth - William Cutler Atwater.
Pedigree per Mehl's Atwater sale. Scratches between the R and I of
PCGS reports two EF-40
examples in the April 2003 Population Report, but we suspect that they are
both the same coin being resubmitted in hopes of a higher grade. The
finest example graded by PCGS is a single AU-55.
None - all known examples appear to have been struck from the same
pair of dies
Sources and/or recommended reading:
"Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia Of U.S. And Colonial
Coins" by Walter Breen
"The PCGS Population
Report, July 2003" by The
Professional Coin Grading Service