Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Sale 39

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Lot 2237

1796/5 $5 Capped Bust. Small eagle. . BD-1, Breen-9I, Miller-16, the only known dies. Rarity-4+. NGC graded MS-62. Coin is encapsulated in NGC holder 1891975-006. Slightly reflective surfaces. Light scattered marks, free from adjustment marks. A lovely BU representative of this scarcer Small Eagle five, both sides exhibit bright, yellow-gold color with deeper green-gold undertones perceptible at indirect angles. The strike is nicely centered on the defect-free planchet. Further, it is also sharply executed over virtually all elements of the design. Magnification reveals modest hints of semi-reflective flash from the fields as the viewer rotates the coin under a light. The reflective quality serves to enhance what is already a high level of pleasing eye appeal. A definite find for the better-date Type buyer seeking a representative of this, one of the greatest rarities in the U.S. half eagle series.

There is only one known die marriage of the 1796 issue, and its obverse is an overdate that employs an unused 1795-dated die of the Close Date variety. Although archive records indicate 6,196 half eagles were delivered in 1796, there is some discussion as to whether these all bore that date. Walter Breen (1988) opines that these coins were dated 1796/5, and he further states that an additional 623 coins delivered in 1797 were also struck using this die marriage. If true, the author's theory would yield a mintage of 7,253 pieces for the 1796/5. Breen's suggested mintage figure for this issue fails to hold up when one considers that, if accurate, the 1796/5 would have been produced in nearly as great a quantity as the 1795 Small Eagle. This cannot possibly be the case, first and foremost because the 1796/5 is much rarer than the 1795 Small Eagle, a disparity that cannot be explained merely by the fact that the former issue was saved in greater numbers as the first U.S. half eagle. Additionally, the Mint required 12 die marriages to produce the 1795 Small Eagle fives but, as previously stated, there is only a single known variety of the 1796/5.

We believe that many of the 6,196 Half Eagles struck in 1796 were actually from 1795-dated dies. A few may have been dated 1796/5, nonetheless, and strong candidates would be those struck at the end of the year. We also find it likely that some 1796/5 examples were delivered in early 1797. Until further information becomes available, it seems probable that the original mintage figure is fewer than 6,196 pieces. Survivors number just 80 to 100 coins.
Pop 5; 6 finer; 2 in 63; 3 in 64; 1 in 65. (PCGS # 8067) .

This, America's earliest gold design, was struck during President Washington's second administration. Few people realize that Washington was one of the Mint's cheerleaders, as it were, seeing the organization through its darkest early days when congress wasn't overly keen on having such a high-cost facility funded by taxpayer money. Why, just holding a coin like this 1796/5 half eagle in one's hand brings forth a vision of those halcyon days when America was fresh out of the nest and struggling to survive, while the rest of the world seemed large and menacing. That we survived, and that this gold piece survived, is witness to the power of an idea: that a people are fully capable of guiding their own destiny.
Estimated Value $100,000 - 120,000.

Realized $143,750

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