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How Rare are Choice 1795 Eagles?

ByGreg Reynold for CoinLink

Eagles dated 1795 are strongly desired by collectors. A 1795 eagle is ‘in the news’ since Heritage will be offering a high grade piece at the upcoming auction that will be held in conjunction with the Long Beach (CA) coin, stamp and collectible expo, Feb. 15 to 17.

1795 Eagle – 13 leaves – Courtesy Of Heritage

United States $10 gold coins are termed ‘eagles.’ These were first minted in 1795. Business strikes were last made in 1933. Gold “eagle” bullion coins and commemorative $10 gold coins are much different.

Though there are several varieties of 1795 eagles, only two are often categorized as being separate ‘dates.’ The others are die varieties of interest to specialists in early eagles, and to researchers.

Most of the surviving 1795 eagles have thirteen leaves on the branch on the reverse (back of the coin). On top of this branch, an eagle is perched. This representation of a bald eagle, America’s national bird, is referred to as being ’small’ though it is not small. It is so labeled because it was replaced by a larger ‘Heraldic’ eagle sometime in the middle of 1797.

Eagles with the year ‘1795′ on the obverse (front) and nine leaves on the branch on the reverse are extremely rare. The ‘nine leaves’ variety is often thought to constitute a separate date partly because the difference in the leaves is readily apparent, even to someone who may not be looking for a difference. No one would need a magnifying glass to distinguish the two reverse varieties. It could be fairly argued, however, that these two are die varieties not separate dates. By tradition, they have been accepted as separate dates in widely accepted guides.

The 1795, nine leaves, is an extreme rarity, with fewer than fifty surviving coins. A very large percentage of 1795 eagles have thirteen leaves on the reverse. Whenever a 1795 eagle is mentioned, it should be assumed that it has thirteen leaves unless ‘nine leaves’ is explicitly stated.

There are only four dates in this first type of eagles, with bust obverse and ’small eagle’ reverse, the two 1795s, 1796, and 1797. Collectors seeking to complete ‘date’ sets have always been willing to pay more for the ‘nine leaves’ variety, as it so rare. In the 1990s, there were many buyers who acquired especially rare coins as trophies, or for pure speculation. Since 2000, however, there has been a boom in the collecting of type coins. This is partly due to the growing popularity of PCGS and NGC registry sets, and mostly due to the rekindling of collecting spirits in general.

Close up detail of the difference between the 1794 gold $10 reverse leaf design
Detail – 9 Leaves and 13 leaves

In many instances, the 1795 with thirteen leaves is the only date of the type available to a type collector who seeks coins that grade MS-62 or MS-63. Do any 1796 or 1797 eagles of the first type exist in MS-64 or higher grades?

Actually, Heritage will offer two 1795 eagles in Long Beach on the night of Feb. 16. The first is a coin with surgically altered rims that does not qualify for certification by the PCGS or the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC). It is declared genuine and in an NCS holder, an affiliate of NGC, with a notation that the level of wear is equivalent to a grade of almost uncirculated, “AU Details.” For collectors who are unable or unwilling to pay a vast sum, this coin may be an excellent value. It will be interesting to see the amount that it brings.

The second 1795 eagle is NGC graded MS-64. It comes from the ‘Freedom Collection,’ which is the top ranked gold type set in the NGC registry.

Most of the ‘Freedom Collection,’ but not this piece, was sold on the second “Platinum night,” Jan. 4, of Heritage’s auction extravaganza at the Florida United Numismatists convention in Orlando. During that one night, more than $34 million of U.S. gold coins crossed the ‘auction block.’

On that night of Jan. 4, a 1795 eagle, of the rarer nine leaves variety, sold for $149,500. It is graded AU-55 by the Professional Coin Grading Service. This ‘nine leaves’ eagle was from the ‘Essex Palm’ collection, as was a 1795, thirteen leaves, PCGS MS-63, which David Hall bought for $201,250.

There at least three times as many 1795 eagles with thirteen leaves as there are 1795 eagles with nine leaves. Yet, an AU-55 example of the rarer variety is not worth nearly as much as a MS-63 example of least rare date of the type. Indeed, the current PCGS price guide values a MS-63 ‘nine leaves’ at just 25% more than a MS-63 ‘thirteen leaves,’ $375,000 versus $300,000. The popularity of type collecting results in many collectors obtaining just one coin of each series to represent that respective design type in their sets.

For the 1795, thirteen leaves, the NGC has graded 150 and the PCGS has graded more than 185. It is likely, though, that these numbers represent less than 200 different coins. For bust coins in general, especially very early series, it is very difficult to distinguish high almost uncirculated (AU) grades from low ‘Mint State’ grades. There is, however, a tremendous difference in price between an AU-58 and a MS-62!

Photo Courtesy Of Heritage Auctions

US 1795 $10 Gold Coin
Photo Courtesy Of Heritage Auctions

Seasoned collectors know, of course, that there are even larger differences in price between mint state grades. The difference in quality, though, between a MS-64 and a MS-65 is much greater than the quality difference between a MS-62 and a MS-63.

In general, the increments from AU-58 to MS-62 are extremely subtle, more so for certain types. So, disproportionate numbers of 55s, 58s and 62s in the population reports for early eagles are likely to reflect many resubmissions. In some events, one coin may be counted ten times. The number of surviving 1795 eagles, thirteen leaves, is probably between 175 and 225, including at least a dozen that have never been submitted to PCGS or NGC.

A very small percentage of the surviving 1795 eagles grade MS-64 or higher. The lone PCGS graded MS-66 example is rumored to be in a famous private collection in the Southwest. It could be from the Garrett 3 sale by Bowers & Ruddy in Oct. 1980. The Garrett Family collection was one of the greatest of all time. Even the primitive image in the Garrett 3 catalogue seems to show that this coin was evenly struck with amazing detail and reflective surfaces.

An ‘East Coast’ dealer reports that he recently sold a PCGS graded MS-65 1795, with thirteen leaves, which was formerly in the Eliasberg collection. It may be the same coin that B&M (Louisiana) auctioned in their 2003 ANA sale, for a reported “$506,000.”

During the ‘Platinum Night’ of Heritage’s 2005 FUN auction in Fort Lauderdale, the ‘Gold Rush’ 1795 eagle sold for $460,000. The ‘Gold Rush Collection’ is an awkward name for a fabulous gold type set assembled by an anonymous collector under the guidance of Al Adams.

The ‘Gold Rush’ 1795 eagle was PCGS graded MS-64, and I wonder if it is now one of the two MS-65s that NGC has graded? It is a very attractive coin, and is well struck on a premium planchet. It has very few contact marks.

The Oliver Jung 1795 eagle, thirteen leaves, PCGS MS-63 was auctioned by ANR in 2004. It brought $230,000, a very high price at the time. In March 2006, ANR auctioned it again for $310,500.

The Jung 1795 eagle is or was a very attractive, well struck, frosty piece that was much more appealing in actuality than it appears in the auction catalogue. It would not surprise me if it has since been certified as MS-64. The fields show some contact marks and light scratches, but have never been subject to tampering. It has cool, moderately reflective surfaces, and is very impressive overall.

As for the others in the MS-63 to -65 range in the population reports, where are they in reality? A 1795, thirteen leaves, eagle graded MS-63 by NGC was auctioned by B&M in Jan. 2002, and another of the same grade was auctioned by Superior in May 2001. Back in August 1999, B&M (New Hampshire) auctioned a PCGS graded MS-64 example. Some auction sales are repeat appearances of the same coins.

According to the NGC registry, the ‘Freedom’ 1795 was added to the ‘Freedom Collection’ type set on Feb. 25, 2004. None of the other competitors in the NGC registry have or had a commensurable 1795 eagle.

In the PCGS registry, the “Number One All Time Finest Set” of early eagles is the Harry Bass collection. A coin in the registry that was never certified by PCGS receives an “estimated grade” derived from notes taken by one or more PCGS officials or associates who viewed it in another setting. The Bass 1795, thirteen leaves, is “estimated” to grade “MS-64.” His 1795 ‘nine leaves’ is also “estimated” to merit this same grade. If so, it would probably be the finest known.

The 1795 eagle in the Smithsonian is estimated to merit only a “MS-62” grade. An anonymous collector has the third “all-time finest” set in the PCGS registry. It seems he could not think of a code name, and thus referred to a set of early eagles as “Early Tens” (no kidding!). His 1795 is PCGS graded MS-64. There is no mention of the pedigree, and no picture. The owner of the fourth finest set of early eagles, “Carmel,” has an AU-55 example.

In the PCGS registry, “The Number One Finest [Gold Type] Set of All Time” is the “Gopher State Collection.” The Gopher 1795 is also PCGS graded AU-55. It would be appreciated if the registrants added pedigree information. The fourth finest gold type set, “Searight,” has a 1795 eagle in Good-06 grade.

For some reason, a list of the coins is not available on the web of the ‘High Desert’ collection, first ranked by PCGS in the category of “Complete U.S. Type set (1792-1934).” The second “all-time finest” was formed by James Swan. It has been dissolved, probably in 2002 or 2003? The Swan 1795 eagle is PCGS graded MS-62.

The mystery of the whereabouts of many of the MS-64 and -65 grade pieces in the population reports is not solved by perusing the contents of the PCGS and NGC registry sets. The other PCGS MS-65, two NGC MS-65s, and several of the MS-64s certified by both services do not seem to have appeared, in publicized sets nor in recent major auctions.

References to all pertinent auction records plus a reasonably thorough investigation of the pieces that were auctioned over the past fifteen years, along with interviews of leading dealers, might reveal much about the true number of MS-63 to -65 grade 1795 eagles with thirteen leaves. Perhaps there are ten different that should be graded MS-63, maybe a half dozen true 64s, and four to six gems?

© 2007 Greg Reynolds

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About the Author

Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.

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