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HomeUS Coins1797 Capped Bust Eagle, Small Eagle : A Collector's Guide

1797 Capped Bust Eagle, Small Eagle : A Collector’s Guide

1797 Capped Bust Eagle, BD-1. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1797 Capped Bust Eagle, BD-1. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

Just five years after the founding of the United States Mint, the 1797 Capped Bust Eagle is already the third emission of the $10 gold denomination and has the distinction of being struck with two different reverse designs: the Small Eagle and the Heraldic Eagle.

One die marriage was deployed to strike the final Capped Bust Eagle with the Small Eagle reverse. The coin type had been in use since 1795 and was being updated when the Mint was undergoing major growing pains. After the Small Eagle coinage wrapped up, three dead marriages were put into service to strike 1797 Capped Bust Eagles with the new Heraldic Eagle reverse; at least one of those marriages struck 1797-dated coins in 1798.

Based on Mint records, troubled numismatist Walter Breen believed that 3,615 Small Eagle type Capped Bust Eagles were struck, based on deliveries from March 25 to May 2, 1797. The math works out to 10,940 1797-dated Heraldic Eagles, with deliveries taking place between June 7, 1797, and January 30, 1798.

Numismatist John W. Dannreuther proposes different estimates, with a potential mintage of between 1,250 and 3,615 coins with the Small Eagle design and between 8,750 and 12,500 pieces total for all 1797-dated Eagles.

What Is the 1797 Capped Bust Eagle Worth, and Why Is It Important?

PCGS founder David Hall was often quoted as saying that early $10 gold coins are the “beachfront property” of numismatics. These perennially popular coins are certainly rare and alluring. At the time of their striking, the gold eagle was the highest denomination gold coin issued by the United States. In the 18th century, $10 was quite a bit of money, and while these coins were seldom used in day-to-day commerce, they were heavily exported to pay for imported goods from Europe. The Capped Bust Eagle with the Small Eagle reverse is also a beautiful coin with designs that vary slightly from one die to the next due to the primitive nature of the Mint’s coin production technology at the time.

The 1797 Capped Bust Eagle is available in the upper tier of circulated grades, in impaired states of presentation, and in Mint State. Unlike some of the earlier issues of this type, no examples of any 1797 Capped Bust Eagle variety are known to exist in grades finer than MS63.

The value of the 1797 Capped Bust Eagle with the Small Eagle reverse has increased over the past 10 to 15 years. Even in the lower known grades, this type is seldom offered at auction and usually commands prices approaching $100,000 USD per coin or more. According to the NGC census, the finest known coin is the Beldon Roach – Amon Carter, Sr. specimen, graded MS63. At PCGS, the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Core Collection specimen in MS62 is a leading candidate for their finest known example.

Identifying the variety doesn’t require seeing the reverse, as the 16 stars on the obverse die were laid out in an unusual 12×4 alignment, with the first star on the left side touching the date. In most known examples, a prominent die crack is present from the rim below the 16th star, progressing up at a diagonal to Liberty’s neck.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Top Population: PCGS MS62 (1, 5/2023), NGC MS63 (1, 5/2024), and CAC AU58 (1:0 stickered:graded, 5/2024).

  • NGC MS63 #1562003-001: “The Belden Roach Collection,” B. Max Mehl, February 1944, Lot 309; Amon Carter, Sr; Amon Carter, Jr.; “The Amon Carter Family Collection,” Stack’s, January 1984, Lot 730; “The Ohringer Family Trust Collection,” Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers, September 2008, Lot 1272; Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers, September 2010, Lot 2962; Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers, January 2011, Lot 2174; Heritage Auctions, January 10, 2013, Lot 5897 – $293,750. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face. Planchet void to the right of stars 5 and 8. Raised die line below branch. Diagonal scratch (strikethrough?) below the right wing.
  • PCGS MS62 #46092776: RARCOA, sold privately on February 3, 1975; “The Harry W. Bass Jr. Core Collection, Part IV,” Heritage Auctions, August 10, 2023, Lot  9067 – $360,000. Bass novelty insert. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face. Deep tick on neck left of two smaller ticks. Orange color under BERTY. Tiny ticks in the upper left obverse field. Three ticks to the right of Liberty’s mouth. Orange color under ATE… O… and AME. 
  • PCGS MS62: Pogue, September 2015 – $440,625.
  • NGC MS62 #1785807-009: “The Farish Baldenhofer Collection,” Stack’s, November 1955, Lot 1431; “John A. Beck Collection,” Quality Sales Corporation, January 1975, lot 486; “The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection,” Bowers and Merena, October 1999, Lot 1304; Heritage Auctions, July 2003, Lot 10411 – $184,000; “The Franklinton Collection,” American Numismatic Rarities, August 2006, Lot 1527 – $276,000; Stack’s Bowers, August 2020, Lot 1272 – $300,000. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face. Elbow-shaped marks behind cap. Tiny tick on jaw.
  • NGC MS62 #1648130-015: Heritage Auctions, January 7, 2004, Lot 3054 – $126,500.
  • PCGS MS61 #25673077: As NGC MS61 #2200278-003. “The Music City Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2015, Lot 5378 – $176,250. As PCGS MS61 #25673077. “The Richard W. DeRobertis Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 10, 2016, Lot 4306 – $258,500. Die crack is just forming below star 16. Mark overlaps. Spot to the right of Liberty’s nose. Two ticks in the left field to the right of star 7. Light adjustment marks on the reverse. Two thin scratches form a > in the left reverse field.
  • PCGS MS61 #31529827: Goliad Corporation (Mike Brownlee), by sale, September 1978; “The D. Brent Pogue Collection, Part II,” Stack’s Bowers / Sotheby’s, September 30, 2015, Lot 2094 – $440,625. Pogue novelty insert. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face.
  • NGC MS61 #586602-012: “The Ketring Family Collection,” Heritage Auctions, July 28, 2003, Lot 10411 – $184,000. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face.
  • PCGS MS60 #9964526: “The New Orleans Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 2015, Lot 5377 – $211,500; “The Riverboat Collection of Early Eagles,” Heritage Auctions, February 9, 2023, Lot 3826 – $222,000. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face. Dark gold and violet highlights.
Color plate and listing from RARCOA's Auction '81 Sale.
Color plate and listing from RARCOA’s Auction ’81 Sale.
  • PCGS AU58+ #46092775: Auction ’81, RARCOA, Lot 455; “The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Core Collection, Part II,” Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2023, Lot 9059 – $204,000. Bass novelty insert. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face.
  • PCGS AU58 #50069971: Bowers and Merena, January 2005, Lot 1594; Stack’s, November 2008, Lot 4430; Stack’s Bowers, August 16, 2023, Lot 5144 – $168,000. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face.
  • NGC AU58: Heritage Auctions, August 2, 2017, Lot 4150 – $135,125. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face.
  • NGC AU58 #564307-001: “The Dr. James A. Ferrendelli Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, August 2014, Lot 11104 – $164,500. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face. Two ticks on the forehead, a tick behind the eye. Cluster of small hits on the neck. Planchet void below the frond at 7 o’clock on the reverse. Curved cut below I of AMERICA.
  • NGC AU58: Stack’s, June 25, 2008, Lot 2093 – $149,500. Die crack below star 16. Almost upright diagonal adjustment marks across face. Tick in the left field below star 8. Longer mark nearby. Curved mark near denticle close to 6 o’clock.

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Design

Obverse:

A right-facing portrait of Liberty wearing a cap. Some refer to the cap as a turban, a Phrygian cap, or a pileus, but its shape does not precisely convey any of these forms. A large curl of hair hangs over Liberty’s forehead, and her hair hangs long down the back of her neck and off of her shoulder. Liberty’s bust is wrapped in the cloth of a chiton. The date appears centered below the bust, while canted slightly to the right is LIBERTY. On the left side of the obverse, 12 stars wrap around the inside of the denticles. These stars are not centered are roughly equidistant from one another, but the bottom star touches the 1 of the date. A wide gap exists between the 12th star and the L of LIBERTY. On the right side, four more stars (for a total of 16), wrap around the inside of the denticles. A prominent die crack is typically found on this variety and is located just below the 16th star. Denticles extend from the border or the design to the edge.

Reverse:

A long-necked bird, meant to resemble an eagle, clutches a palm frond in its talons and a laurel wreath in its beak. Wrapping around the design is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. A larger gap exists between UNITED and the rest of the legend, and OF is closer to STATES than to AMERICA. Denticles extend from the border or the design to the edge.

Edge:

The edge of the 1797 Capped Bust Eagle with Small Eagle reverse is reeded, a common anti-counterfeiting measure.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1797
Denomination: One Eagle (10 Dollars USD)
Mintmark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: Likely between 1,250 and 3,615
Alloy: .9167 gold, .0833 copper
Weight: 17.5 g
Diameter: 33.0 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Robert Scot
REV Designer: Robert Scot
Quality: Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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