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Obverse of 1798 Half Eagle - Plain Eagle on Reverse     Reverse of 1798 Half Eagle - Plain Eagle on Reverse

Plain Eagle on Reverse
(see also 1798 Half Eagle -
Eagle and Shield on Reverse

PCGS No: 8071


Circulation strikes: Unknown
Proofs: 0

Designer: Robert Scot

Diameter: 25 millimeters

Metal content:
Gold - 91.7%
Silver and Copper - 8.3%

Weight: 135 grains (8.748 grams)

Edge: Reeded

Mintmark: None (all dates of this type were struck at the Philadelphia mint)

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."

"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."

- from the description of Lot 1290 in Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles' "Dr. Jon Kardatzke" sale, June 2000

Images courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles

Significant examples:
Note - much of the information in the following list of known 1798 "Small Eagle" Half Eagles was supplied by Saul Teichman.  The list offered here improves and amends the lists provided in the Eliasberg (1982) and Goldberg (2000) catalogs, which appear to include several errors:

1. About Uncirculated.  Raymond L. Caldwell - Flanagan - Farouk - Baldenhofer - the Pogue family collection.  Pictured (poorly) in the April 1935 issue of the Numismatist, page 212.  (Partial pedigree per Stack's "Baldenhofer" and Bowers' "Eliasberg" catalogs).  According to John Dannreuther, the listing of James A. Stack as an owner of this coin is an error, as are the Ten Eyck and Newcomer citations listed in the Baldenhofer sale catalog.  This is the Col. Green photographic library example, but Dannreuther believes that Green never owned this coin -- it was subsituted by Weihman, who purchased Green's half eagles intact and "upgraded" this piece with the Flanagan coin. This coin was graded Very Fine in the Flanagan sale, but a recent examination using "modern" grading standards resulted in a higher opinion of the grade.

2. PCGS EF-40 (illustrated above).  John Dannreuther - Dr. Gene Sherman (via Tony Terranova) - Dr. Jon Kardatzke (via Tony Terranova and Dave Liljestrand) - Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles' "Dr. Richard Ariagno" sale, May 1999 (unsold) -  Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles "Dr. Jon Kardatzke" sale, June 2000, Lot 1290 @ $264,5000.00.  Planchet flake at second T in STATES.  Teichman suspects that this coin may be the Atwater specimen (see #8 below), as the Atwater coin appears to have a flat second 'T' in 'STATES'.

3. Extremely Fine.  Joseph J. Mickley - William Sumner Appleton - T. Harrison Garrett - Robert Garrett - John Work Garrett - Johns Hopkins University - Bowers & Ruddy's " Garrett I" sale, Lot 437 - Auction 83 - Kevin Lipton - Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries - mystery buyer.

4. Choice Very Fine.  B. Max Mehl in 1924 - John H. Clapp - Louis Eliasberg - Bowers & Ruddy's "United States Gold Coin Collection" sale, 1982, Lot 330 - Bass - Harry W. Bass Research Foundation.

5. Very Fine.  B. Max Mehl's sale of the " Ten Eyck" collection, 1922, Lot 166, $5,250.00 - Waldo Newcomer - Stack's sale of the " Davis-Graves" collection - C. T. Weihman - Lilly - Smithsonian.  This example has many scratches, especially a thin scratch through Liberty's cap visible on the plates of all the above sales and it has had a scratch in the right obverse field smoothed.  This example is the one plated in the Ten Eyck and Davis-Graves sales and is also on Mehl's Newcomer plates.  This coin is attributed to Col. Green in Cory Gillilland's Sylloge as are many Weihman/Lilly coins, some possibly in error.  This is NOT the one on the Col. Green plates nor is it the Baldenhofer coin. (Please note that the Col. Green plates usually only show one coin per variety). Click here to see an image of this coin

6. Very Fine.  Lorin G. Parmelee, Lot 758 - Woodside - Smithsonian.  Scratched reverse. Click here to see an image of this coin

7. Very Fine. John Butler - Earle, $3000.00 - Col. James W. Ellsworth - William Cutler Atwater.  Pedigree per Mehl's Atwater sale.  Scratches between the R and I of AMERICA.

PCGS reports two EF-40 examples in the April 2003 Population Report, but we suspect that they are both the same coin being resubmitted in hopes of a higher grade.  The finest example graded by PCGS is a single AU-55.

None - all known examples appear to have been struck from the same pair of dies

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

"The PCGS Population Report, July 2003" by The Professional Coin Grading Service