PCGS Specials

HomeUS CoinsCapped Bust Right Half Eagle, Heraldic Eagle (1795-1807) | CoinWeek

Capped Bust Right Half Eagle, Heraldic Eagle (1795-1807) | CoinWeek

1795 Capped Bust Half Eagle, Heraldic Eagle Reverse. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1795 Capped Bust Half Eagle, Heraldic Eagle Reverse. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
This type is also labeled the Draped Bust or Turban Head to distinguish it from the later Capped Bust type introduced in 1807 (the Guide Book calls this type “Capped Bust to Right”, and the later type “Capped Bust to Left”).

Upon its release, the eagle on United States Mint Chief Engraver Robert Scot’s earlier Capped Bust Right, Small Eagle design of 1795 was unpopular and criticized as amateurish and scrawny. To answer the critics, Scot redesigned the reverse and replaced the small eagle with a larger eagle, often called a Heraldic design because of the dominant presentation of the Union shield over the eagle’s body.

This design type entered production in 1798 but features coins dated 1795 and 1797! The reason for this is simple economics.

Steel coinage dies were expensive and difficult to produce. For that reason, it was common practice to use and reuse dies until they were no longer serviceable. Evidence of this is seen throughout the early coinage of the United States, where dies are used despite being riddled with cracks, and in cases where obverse and reverse dies are swapped out for use and sometimes remarried in a much later die state.

This practice is responsible for the “impossible” pairing of the Heraldic eagle reverse with a 1795-dated obverse. Similarly, 1801-dated dies were prepared but not used in 1801, modified the next year to produce the 1802/1 overdate, and 1803 coins are 1803/2 overdates.

A Not-So-Friendly Eagle

Much has been written about Scot’s “blunder” in placing the arrows and olive branches in the eagle’s claws in reverse order. The symbolism of promoting peace over war normally would have resulted in the placement of the olive branch in the eagle’s right or more honorable claw. The left claw was the sinister claw, the Latin word for “left” that had accumulated troubling connotations for anything representing the left side (this association may be familiar to those who attended grade school up through the 1950s when efforts were made by some teachers to change left-handers to right-handers). Therefore, arrows as symbols of war should have been placed in the left claw, indicating the evil and disaster of war. The olive branch was to be placed in the honorable (dexter) right claw, indicating the desire for peace. It is uncertain whether Scot’s reversal of this symbology was intentional or an oversight.

Some have defended the placement, suggesting that a misreading of perspective is to blame: the olive branch is to the viewer’s right, but in heraldry, right and left are determined from the image’s perspective, which means the eagle’s right claw is to the viewer’s left.

How Much Are Capped Bust Right Half Eagles with the Heraldic Eagle Reverse Worth?

Capped Bust Right Half Eagles are scarce-to-rare in all grades but are more accessible to collectors than the Capped Bust Right, Small Eagle type that preceded it. A few thousand coins of the type have been certified by CAC, NGC, and PCGS, with no more than 400 or so examples for each major variety. The 1806 Knobbed-6 and the 1803/2 are the two most frequently encountered issues.

In the typical circulated grade, coins from the Capped Bust Right Half Eagle often command prices in excess of $10,000 USD, while Mint State coins start at about $15,000 and increase to $30,000 or more in MS63. Even common date examples in Gem have realized $250,000 or more at auction.

The rare dates and varieties make infrequent appearances at auctions. The 1797/5, for instance, with approximately 20 known coins, has only three coins certified by PCGS in Mint State. There have been no recorded auctions of these three coins since 2019, though as of May 2024, one example is currently being offered by a major dealer for $423,500.

Design

Obverse:

A right-facing Liberty wears a soft cap, possibly a mob cap (a high fashion headdress of the 1790s, seen on portraits of Martha Washington) rather than a pileus or Liberty cap. Around Liberty’s portrait, inside a denticled rim, are six-pointed stars to the left and right, the word LIBERTY at the top, and the date at the bottom. The top of the soft cap creates a visual break between the top left star and LIBERTY. Issues dated 1795 have 10 stars to the left and five to the right. Two unique pieces dated 1797, one with 16 obverse stars and the other with 15 obverse stars, are in the Smithsonian. Half eagles dated 1798 through 1807 have 13 obverse stars, eight to the left and five to the right; except for one 1806 variety with seven stars to the left and six to the right.

Reverse:

The reverse displays an eagle with outstretched wings in the center, a Union shield across its body. A banner on which is emblazoned the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is displayed high, across the eagle’s outstretched wings above the tip of the shield. The eagle holds an olive branch in its left claw and a cluster of arrows in its right claw. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA makes nearly a complete circle inside the denticled rim, UNITED and STATES, and OF and AMERICA separated by the tips of the eagle’s wings. Underneath STATES OF is an arc of clouds. Below the clouds, above and around the eagle’s head, is a glory of small six-point stars in three short arcs, six at the top, five below, and one to each side of the eagle’s head. One 1798 variety has 14 reverse stars with six stars in the middle row instead of five. Some 1798 and 1799 issues have the stars arranged in a linear “cross” pattern rather than the curving arcs. All coins were minted at Philadelphia, and no mintmark or denomination appears on the coins.

Varieties

Many die-marriage varieties have been documented, all with naked-eye visible detail differences.

Of the 10 listed in the Guide Book, only eight are collectible; they are the

  • 1797 7 Over 5 overdate
  • 1798 Small 8
  • 1798 Large 8 13-Star reverse
  • 1798 Large 8 14-Star reverse
  • 1804 Small 8
  • 1804 Small 8 Over Large 8
  • 1806 Pointed-6
  • 1806 Knobbed-6

Two others–the 1797 16-Star and 15-Star obverse varieties– are unique and held in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian.

Coin Specifications

Capped Bust Half Eagle, Large (Heraldic) Eagle
Years Of Issue: 1795, 1797-1807
Mintage (Business Strikes): High: 64,093 (1806); Low: 7,451 (1799)
Mintage (Proofs): None known, but a specimen example of the 1795 Large (Heraldic) Eagle reverse has been certified.
Alloy: .9167 gold, .0833% silver and copper
Weight: ±8.75 g
Diameter: ±25.0 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Robert Scot
REV Designer: Robert Scot

 

* * *

References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Dannreuther, John W. and Harry W. Bass, Jr. Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties; A Study of Die States, 1795-1834. Whitman Publishing.

Garrett, Jeff, and Ron Guth. Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, 1795-1933. Whitman Publishing.

Guth, Ron, and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S., and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

 

* * *

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

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Great Collection Coin Auctions

AU Capital Management US gold Coins

Blanchard and Company Gold and Precious Metals