1795 $10 9 Leaf
BD-3, Breen-6831, Bass-3171, Taraszka-3, R.6. Details of AU to Uncirculated. If a group of numismatists were to discuss each of the key issues within the U.S. coinage series, the conversation would not be complete without first paying proper homage to this legendary early $10 gold piece issue. Its importance to American coin collectors is very well supported, both due to its extreme rarity (a mere 20 or so pieces are believed to be extant with 15 distinct specimens having been traced by Anthony Taraszka), and its broad-based, versatile collector appeal. Not only would early gold coin date and variety specialists have utmost interest in acquiring such a coin, this issue also transcends such boundaries by appealing to advanced type coin collectors (this nine leaf reverse can certainly be categorized as a separate subtype if not a distinct reverse type in and of itself).
The specimen offered here more than adequately represents this key issue in every respect. Subtly reflective yellow-golden fields are pleasantly highlighted by hints of green-gold patina. The central design elements are more than adequately struck and display only the typical lack of reverse definition on the right side of the breast and left side of the neck of the eagle. In light of the age, method of manufacture, and exceeding rarity of this coin, the example offered here truly is quite special in every respect. Bid liberally, as it may be quite some time before a similar opportunity presents itself.
The eagle or $10 piece was intended to be the foundational gold coin in the American monetary system as outlined in the Mint Act of April 2, 1792. This was the largest denomination and was the standard against which fractional coins were measured, such as the $2.50 quarter eagle and $5 half eagle, these being proportionate divisions as to their weights. Due to surety requirements, no gold coins were struck until 1795. In that year, coinage commenced in July with the half eagle, quickly followed by the eagle. The design of the first $10 gold is similar to that of the contemporary $5 and was by Robert Scot. On the obverse, Liberty is shown wearing a cloth cap, facing right, which Kenneth E. Bressett, Editor of A Guide Book of United States Coins designated some years ago, and since has become the standard, "Capped Bust to Right style." The reverse follows that of the half eagle. Coins of the highest denomination made their first appearance in circulation toward the end of 1795. As nearly all extant specimens show signs of wear, it is evident that these pieces were very popular for their intended use. Unfortunately, many if not most were shipped abroad, but likely bankers and merchants in the leading cities saw a few such coins in the early years.
Beginning with coins dated 1797, the Heraldic Eagle reverse (first used on the 1796 $2.50, although an anachronistic $5 of 1795 must also be mentioned, but was not struck in that year) was mated to the obverse used earlier. The new reverse copied the Great Seal of the United States. By 1804 it was realized that while eagles circulated effectively on the domestic scene, they had increasingly important use in the export trade, particularly to Europe, where American paper money was not desired. Accordingly, no eagles were made after 1804, with the hope that the smaller half eagles would soon become abundant in circulation. That did not happen, and half eagles simply took the place of eagles and were shipped abroad and melted.
Eagles of the 1795 to 1804 years have been numismatically desirable for a long time. Similar to the $2.50 and $5, they seem to have been collected by a handful of numismatists in the 1820s and 1830s, expanding to perhaps a few dozen collectors by the 1860s onward. Still, the high face value and relative scarcity of these pieces deterred many from acquiring them.
As the years went by, early eagles were part of important collections and attracted attention when offered. However, truly widespread demand did not occur until the 1930s, when all gold coins came into the limelight. In recent generations, early half eagles have been numismatic treasures, and even the most available varieties attract attention when they cross the auction block. In 1999 Anthony J. Taraszka's book United States Gold Eagles, attracted much favorable notice. Today, that book remains highly useful. (PCGS 8552)