1798 $5 Draped Bust Half Eagle D. Brent Pogue Collection BD-6 Small 8 13 St Rev PCGS AU58
One of the Finest Known
1798 Capped Bust Right Half Eagle. Bass Dannreuther-6. Rarity-6. Small 8. Heraldic Eagle. About Uncirculated-58 (PCGS).
“Every gold and silver planchet as cut out was passed through the hands of an adjuster; if overweight reduced by a file, a leather pouch in front of his bench catching the filings; if too light they were returned to the melter.” — George Escol Sellers, “Early Engineering Reminiscences,” American Machinist, May 4, 1893
Profound lustrous cartwheel spins around peripheries, frames devices, and appears in the fields of both sides. Deep yellow gold toning is present on obverse and reverse, splashed here and there with areas of copper orange. Significant adjustment lines are prominent in the low spot at the central obverse, mostly parallel and horizontal though at least one line crosses them on a perpendicular. Some other vestiges of planchet adjustment are seen near star 13 and the bust truncation, though none are noted on the reverse. The obverse fields show some modest hairlines, though their number is fewer and their significance is less evident on the reverse. No major marks are seen, just a light scrape inside star 5, a thin scratch from star 10 to near Liberty’s lips, and some other minor chatter elsewhere. The softly struck central reverse, opposite the obverse adjustment marks, shows some planchet texture where insufficient oppositional force was applied to obliterate it. The overall eye appeal is that of a pleasing and natural-appearing example, nicer than most at this grade level.
A fine crack extends on the reverse from a denticle tip above the left side of O of OF, through the clouds, between stars 10 and 11, ending in the feathers of the wing at right close to the edge of the shield. In a later state, the obverse breaks dramatically. This earlier intermediate state, equivalent to Bass-Dannreuther obverse state a and reverse state b, is quite scarce.
Three different obverse dies with the “Small 8” date punch, referred to as “Normal 8” in the Bass-Dannreuther book, were put into use, each married to a unique reverse to create three Small 8 varieties. Of these, BD-7 is the rarest, with fewer than 10 known. BD-8 is the most common, with a population estimated at 40 to 50. This variety is in the middle, with fewer than 40 known and possibly as few as 25 in all grades. Most specimens seen have significant central adjustment marks, heavier than those seen on other 1798 varieties, perhaps suggesting different processes or personnel for this deposit of half eagles than others. George Escol Sellers, a grandson of Charles Willson Peale, witnessed the process of adjusting planchets at the First United States Mint. Born just a block away from the Mint, he described the act of seeing coining equipment in action as “one of almost daily occurrence.” His evocative description of planchets being adjusted, an employment that would be left almost entirely to female workers in later years, is the only eyewitness account of the activity that remains from this era. Sellers’ recollections were published in the magazine American Machinist decades later and gathered into a single volume, published by the Smithsonian Institution, in 1965.
The elusiveness of this variety went years without proper appreciation. In 1965, Breen noted that it was “less often encountered than the two common Large Date coins,” but accorded it little respect. Harry Bass’ decades-long search for early gold varieties shined a brighter light on this marriage, as he acquired just a single example. The lone piece acquired by Harry Bass remains in the Harry Bass Core Collection. In the Bass-Dannreuther text, John Dannreuther writes that “the rarity of this coin is due to the quick failure of the obverse die, so Bass may not ever have been offered a differing [die] state of this variety.” This example appears to have never sold at auction during the years Bass was active. No specimen of the Small 8 type graded at any level of Mint State by PCGS has ever sold publicly.