By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
I’m not sure the 1795 Small Eagle half eagle is my favorite American gold coin, but it is certainly well up on my Top 10 list. I have handled dozens of 1795 half eagles in grades ranging from Fine-12 to MS65, and to this day, I get a little numis-tingle each time I buy and sell one.
The 1795 Small Eagle half eagle is a first-year issue, and–along with the 1795 eagle–it is one of the two first gold coins made by the fledgling federal mint. There were a total of 8,707 struck and hundreds exist. It is by far the most available issue of the Small Eagle type (there were also half eagles with this design made in 1796, 1797, and 1798) but it is far and away the most popular.
When I first started buying early gold, it was reasonably easy to locate a 1795 Small Eagle half eagle with natural color and choice surfaces. It’s not like you could go to a large coin show and find a number of them, but they seemed to be around. As prices rose for this issue, the number of coins that were dipped/brightened/processed increased incrementally, and today I doubt there are more than a few dozen that exist with original surfaces.
My two favorite grades for early gold are EF45 and AU55/58. I like the way coins graded 45 look but most real 45 coins are now in AU53 holders. I have always been partial to early gold in AU55 and especially in AU58, and I try to buy as many nice coins in this range as possible.
It’s been a long time since I have been able to buy an AU58 1795 Small Eagle half eagle. The ones I’ve liked over the past few years have either sold for crazy money at auctions or I have disliked the quality.
1795 SMALL EAGLE $5.00 PCGS AU58, PURCHASED NOVEMBER 2017 FOR A NORTHWEST COLLECTOR
In a fairly recent Stack’s Bowers Baltimore auction (November 2017), there was a PCGS AU58 1795 Small Eagle half eagle that really appealed to me. I was able to purchase it for $66,000 USD (including the 20% buyer’s premium), which I thought was a reasonable price considering the quality. I then sold the coin to a Northwest collector who is going to use it in his type set.
One of the many things that appealed to me about this coin was its freshness. It was part of a consignment called the Alexander Collection, and according to the envelope that came with the coin, it had been acquired in 1947.
As I mentioned above, most 1795 Small Eagle half eagles have a “washed-out” appearance from numismatic mishandling. The coin I purchased has a much nicer color than normal, with even medium orange-gold hues. There is minimal wear with just some minor friction noted on the cheek – plus some luster breaks in the left obverse field. If you look carefully at the images above you will see a few old scratches in the right obverse field, which I don’t find detracting; the “scratches” on the eagle’s breast are adjustment marks and are “as made”.
For reasons of comparison, let’s look at two other AU58 1795 Small Eagle half eagles that have sold in 2017. The first coin, which brought $70,500 as Lot 5838 in Heritage’s 2017 FUN auction, is very “meaty”, with lots of remaining luster but its bright surfaces clearly indicate dipping.
I don’t dislike this coin, but for $70k, I’d like my early gold to show some crust.
1795 SMALL EAGLE $5.00 PCGS AU58. IMAGE COURTESY OF HERITAGE
The second coin is also graded AU58 by PCGS but it only brought $54,050. It was offered as Lot 2309 in the Stack’s Bowers March 2017 auction. The obverse, even though it lacked original color, wasn’t bad; note the exceptional hair detail and the lack of obvious wear on the cheek.
The reverse, however, was another story. There was a detracting (deliberate?) mark to the right of the final A in AMERICA, as well as other marks below the right wing. Note, as well, what appears to be some possible smoothing at the U in UNITED.
1795 SMALL EAGLE $5.00 PCGS AU58. IMAGE COURTESY OF STACK’S BOWERS
The demand for great early gold coins should continue, and specific issues like the 1795 Small Eagle half eagle should show the greatest interest due to its multiple levels of demand. Fewer and fewer really nice AU coins will be available in the future as coins like this tend to be placed into long-term private collections.
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About Doug Winter
Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old, buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.
In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare US Gold coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.
Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award-winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and a recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and an exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins have made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought-after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality, and fair and honest pricing. Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small. He can be reached at (214) 675-9897.
Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Red Book”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues.
In addition, he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
- Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
- Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
- Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
- The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
- Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
- An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
- The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
- A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
- The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
- Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis
Finally, Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.