The Philadelphia Mint struck gold coins for the first time in 1795, when a reported mintage of 5,583 Capped Bust Right eagles was accomplished. It is likely that the 1795-dated dies continued to be used in the early part of 1796, however, so the surviving population for the date is somewhat larger than the modest production total would suggest.
Five die varieties are known for the date, and in our upcoming Long Beach Signature Auction, we are pleased to offer an example of the famous BD-3 variety, with nine leaves in the palm frond on the small eagle reverse.
The “Nine Leaves” variety is the rarest and most famous of all the Small Eagle Reverse ten dollar varieties, with a surviving population of 18-22 examples, according to PCGS CoinFacts. John Dannreuther believes the BD-3 (Bass-Dannreuther 3) accounted for 210-500 examples of the original mintage for the date. The obverse die was used previously to strike the BD-2 variety of this date, and used again to produce the final BD-5 variety. The reverse die shows several defects on all known specimens, including a die break at the tip of the second leaf, a crack from the edge through the top of the first T in STATES, and another faint crack at the lower right of the first A in AMERICA. These defects may have been caused by die buckling during the preparation of the dies, before the coins were struck. It seems likely that the reverse failed quickly, accounting for the rarity of the BD-3 today.
Although the “Nine Leaves” small eagle reverse is a celebrated issue today, it was unknown to early students of the series. John Colvin Randall identified four varieties of 1795-dated eagles by 1885, but he did not mention the “Nine Leaves” small eagle reverse in the catalog of his collection when it was sold by W. Elliot Woodward in June of 1885. Likewise, Silas Wodell exhibited three varieties of the 1795 eagle at the 1914 ANS Exhibition, but the BD-3 variety was not represented. The first numismatist to publish a description of the variety was Edgar Adams, in his article in the May 1934 edition of The Coin Collector’s Journal. The BD-3 received little publicity before about 1980, and it was seldom attributed in its infrequent auction appearances before the turn of the millennium.
The coin we offer in Long Beach traces its history only back to December of 2003, when it appeared as lot 979 of the Classics Sale, by American Numismatic Rarities (ANR). It is an attractive NGC-graded AU55 example that exhibits well-detailed design elements, with just a trace of wear on the high points. Like most BD-3 examples seen, some small planchet flaws are evident in the lower left obverse field. Walter Breen believed these voids were caused by foreign matter adhering to the dies. The pleasing antique-gold surfaces show the expected number of minor abrasions for the grade, including a hair-thin scratch below the eagle’s wing to the R in AMERICA. Both sides retain significant amounts of original mint luster and eye appeal is quite strong for this early gold rarity.