Goldberg Coins and Collectibles

Sale 5

Lot 1290

The Historic Rarity 1798 Small Eagle PCGS Graded EF 40. PCGS graded EF-40. We are proud to present to the numismatic public one of the foremost opportunities to purchase this extremely rare coin. Many of the recent gold sales failed to have an example of this variety including the Charles Kramer sale in 1988. As stated by Breen, "The roster of survivors includes some of the most honored names in American numismatics." This coin was last offered in our Dr. Richard Ariagno Sale in May of 1999, but went unsold. This was the only example of this rarity offered for public auction during the 1990's. Prior to that, the last chance to purchase this variety was the Garrett Collection sale in November of 1979 and another specimen was offered in the Eliasberg gold sale in 1982. Of the seven known specimens, two are located in the Smithsonian Institution and we suspect that another is located in the Harry Bass Foundation holdings, and won't be sold from that reference die variety collection.
We can only speculate why such a coin was struck. The Philadelphia Mint seemed to be operating in chaos during the first few years, if the half eagles are any reflection of their operating methods. Just think of the changes taking place; once Tennessee joined the Union on June 1, 1796, obverse dies needed 16 stars crammed onto them, up from 15 used in 1794-96. The Mint had prepared obverse dies in advance with 15 stars, and left off the final digit pending use. It is reasonable to conclude that at least two 1797 obverse dies were engraved in 1795 or early 1796 (with 15 obverse stars) and had the final 7 engraved when needed in 1797. Later, a 16 star obverse die was used, but the timing is uncertain if it was before or after the 15 star obverse dies were used. For 1797 in half dimes 15, 16 and 13 star obverse dies were used, for dimes both 16 and 13 star obverses. Needless to say, the changeover to new designs and star counts was accomplished as dies cracked or were worn out, not when the new designs were adopted.
In 1798 the star counts continued to show a variety of changes, on silver dollars 1798s are known with 15 obverse stars and a small eagle reverse as well as a 13 star obverse with a small eagle reverse, but most known are the new 13 star obverse with large heraldic eagle reverse. On dimes, some are known with both sixteen or thirteen star reverses for 1798. On half eagles, virtually all 1798s are the heraldic eagle reverse except for the 7 known with the small eagle reverse. Another curiosity from 1798 is the 1795 heraldic eagle reverse half eagle, which must have been struck sometime in 1797 or later, again using leftover dies.
Apparently the Mint was simply taking orders, the supervisor would come in and need a group of half eagles struck, two dies were taken off the shelf, the coins struck, the dies returned and the coins delivered. Die steel was scarce and very expensive, the Philadelphia Mint couldn't afford to throw away out of date dies, or dies with old designs or last years date, it simply didn't matter, the dies were used until they fell apart. Don't forget to throw into the mix the annual closing of the Mint for the yellow fever epidemic, which was quite severe in 1797, enough so that reopening of the Mint didn't occur until late 1797. Breen logically assumes that these 1798 small eagles were produced in late 1797 and delivered January 4, 1798 or early in 1798 and delivered February 28, 1798. Either way, as Breen notes, we are unlikely to have a definitive answer to the question of when exactly they were produced, what is much more important is how many survive. To this we know far more, there have been seven known specimens for decades including the Garrett coin missing from the original Breen roster (1966). No rumor of an eighth specimen has been heard.
Turning to the actual coin itself, we note that there are faint adjustment marks running vertically through Liberty's upper curls over her ear up to the lower edge of her cap. There is a short, microscopic cut (planchet flaw?) hidden in the middle of her central curls above the 7 in the date, horizontally across from the third star. On the reverse, there is another short planchet flaw sticking out of the left thigh of the eagle near the top but below the junction with his body. The top of the second T in STATES has a planchet flake at the top of the post, weakening that area, similarly, the top right of the I of AMERICA is also weak. No signs of repairs, rim marks, problems, bumps or the usual bothersome and misguided attempts at improving a coin are present.
Numismatists through the decades have always loved this variety. At a glance one notices the heavy ridge along the base of the date, apparently a compass guide line deeply carved into the die so the half-blind engraver Robert Scot could line up the digits in the date, and also to help him place the dentils around the edge. One can imagine the scene back in Philadelphia 202 years ago, it was winter, cold and miserable in the Mint, the dimly lit engraving room with a table covered with metal punches. The room heat was most likely from the glowing forge fires used to heat the die steel for engraving. Scot must have been the only available person that day to engrave dies, Breen attributes many of the botched engravings to him and his lack of artistic talent. Curiously, the digits are of varying sizes, the 9 and 8 are clearly not of the same set of punches, with the 9 substantially smaller. Scot's artistic talents were challenged by the size of the head punch of Liberty, therefore he squeezed 8 stars on the left and LIBERTY and 5 more stars on the right, giving the coin an unbalanced appearance. The reverse is more balanced artistically, with the graceful eagle holding the laurel wreath above his head, perched on the palm branch.
The 8 known specimens are as follows as noted in the Eliasberg gold sale, Bowers & Ruddy, 1982:
1). The Ten Eyck specimen, sold by B.Max Mehl for $5,250, an incredible sum, in 1922. Classified as Extremely Fine by Walter Breen; Fine by B. Max Mehl; and About Uncirculated by Stack's in 1955. Owned at one time by Col. E.H.R. Green, the eccentric millionaire (son of Hetty Green, "the Witch of Wall Street"); then by King Farouk of Egypt; then to Farish Baldenhofer. We believe this is the present specimen offered.
2). The Raymond L. Caldwell specimen. Correspondence between Raymond L. Caldwell and John Work Garrett relative to rare half eagles can be read in Appendix II of The History of United States Coinage As Illustrated by the Garrett Collection. Illustrated in Caldwell's article in The Numismatist in 1935, page 212. Later in the Flanagan Collection; then in the James A. Stack Estate. This piece is graded Very Fine.
3). The John A. Butler specimen. Owned by John Butler, a Burlington, New Jersey druggist, around the turn of the century. The coin later passed to his son. One of two specimens known to Adams in 1909 when he published a study of this series. Later in the Earle Collection; then to Col. James W. Ellsworth; then to William Cutler Atwater. Grading Very Fine, it has scratches between R and I of AMERICA on the reverse.
4). The Davis-Graves coin. Close to Very Fine with several bad reverse digs and scratches according to Breen, who considered the piece to possibly be the same as the one in the Rev. Foster Ely Collection sale as Lot 17, November 17, 1886. Later in the Davis-Graves sale by Stack's; then to C.T. Weihman.
5). The George Woodside specimen. Appearing in the sale of the collection of Lorin G. Parmelee as Lot 758. Very Fine with scratched reverse. Presently in the Smithsonian Institution.
6). The Mehl coin. Sold by B. Max Mehl, the Fort Worth, Texas coin dealer, in 1924, to John H. Clapp. From that point it went to Louis Eliasberg and was sold as Lot 330 in the famous Bowers & Ruddy United States Gold Coin Collection in 1982.
7). The Mickley coin. Formerly owned by Joseph J. Mickley, America's pioneer numismatist. Later in the collection of William Sumner Appleton; then to T. Harrison Garrett. Then it passed to Robert Garrett, then to John Work Garrett, then to Johns Hopkins University. Sold as Lot 437 in the Garrett Sale by Bowers and Ruddy and graded EF 40 with numerous planchet marks.
8.) This coin. Recently discovered by John Dannreuther. About 4 years ago Tony Terranova sold this coin to Dr. Gene Sherman. About one year later, Dr. Sherman through Terranova sold this coin to Dr. Jon Kardatzke through Dave Liljestrand.

Realized $264,500

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