1797 "Eagle and Shield Reverse" Half Eagles by Variety | Turban Head Half Eagles by Date | Half Eagles by Type 
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Obverse of 1797 Half Eagle - 15 Obverse Stars, Normal Date     Reverse of 1797 Half Eagle - 15 Obverse Stars, Normal Date

15 Obverse Stars, Normal Date

Rarity: Unique

Variety equivalents:
unlisted in Miller, unlisted in Breen

PCGS No: None

The only known example of this variety resides in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution.  Despite being listed in Cory Gillilland's Smithsonian Sylloge (as No. 36, where it was listed incorrectly as a possible overdate), this unique variety was known only to certain gold coin specialists until it was brought to our attention in December 2001 by numismatic researcher Saul Teichman.

This was the only use of the obverse die.  This is a completely new obverse die, showing no trace of an overdate and unlisted in any numismatic reference book.

The reverse die of this variety was also used on the 1797/5 Half Eagle with 15 Obverse Stars.

Besides being unique, this variety may prove to be important for another reason.  Previously, researchers believed that the transition from the Small (or Plain) Eagle reverse design to the Eagle and Shield (Heraldic) reverse design took place in 1798, and that all 1795, 1796, and 1797 Half Eagles with the latter reverse were back-dated issues struck in 1798.  However, this variety raises the possibility that the transitional year was, instead, 1797.  This would mean that the 1797 Half Eagles with 15 and 16 Obverse Stars and Heraldic Eagle Reverses were struck in 1797 towards the end of the coinage run for that year and that the only back-dated issues are the 1795 and 1797/5 Half Eagles with Heraldic Eagle Reverses.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, National Numismatic Collection, Douglas Mudd

Sources and/or recommended reading:
"Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia Of U.S. And Colonial Coins" by Walter Breen

"United States Half Eagle Gold Coins 1795 to 1834" by Robert W. Miller, Sr.