1795 Capped Bust Small Eagle $5 Half Eagle

For an early United States gold coin, the 1795 Capped Bust $5.00 half eagle with small eagle reverse isn’t exceptionally rare: There exists today an estimated 550 survivors, a relatively high number for that era.(1)

What makes this issue so special is that it was the first gold coin of any denomination struck at the United States Mint. Documents show 744 half eagles were delivered on July 31, 1795. The earliest delivery of the $10.00 eagle occurred nearly two months later.(2) The $2.50 quarter eagle did not come out until 1796.(3)

Because of its unique place in history, the 1795 small eagle reverse half eagle has been passionately pursued by type set collectors, gold specialists, and advanced collectors… and yet many numismatists contend this remains an underrated coin.(4)

Researchers believe the mintage for this coin to be 8,707 pieces. Mint officials may have been expecting abundant half eagle orders from bullion depositors because more 1795 half eagle dies were fabricated than were needed for this mintage. In all, 12(!) die marriages, involving at least nine small eagle reverse dies, were utilized to accomplish this scant output.(5)(6)

There are a few things to remember about the dozen die marriages (also called die varieties) used to strike the 1795 small eagle half eagle:

  • The Bass-Dannreuther-1 die variety (abbreviated as BD-1) is recognized as the pairing that struck the first delivery of 744 pieces on July 31, 1795, bestowing upon it great historical significance. Somewhere between 40-50 BD-1 examples exist today.(7)
  • BD-3 is by far the most encountered die variety. Survivors number 175-225.(8)
  • The BD-5 and BD-6 are two of the best know varieties and are readily identified by the second “S” in STATES being punched over a “D” placed there in error. This reverse was paired with two different obverses to create separate varieties. The BD-5 is extremely rare, with just 8-12 examples known. The BD-6 survivorship is somewhere in the 60-80 range.(9)
  • BD-11 is the most elusive. Just 3-5 examples are known.(10)

Beginning in 1798 a larger “heraldic” eagle was substituted on the reverse. Many critics thought the original, smaller eagle appeared weak, and poorly represented the newly formed United States.(11)

The fledgling Mint was plagued by a lack of capital and cared little about necessarily matching a 1798 obverse die with the large eagle reverse, so long as the die was in working condition.

Consequently, some half eagles with large eagle reverses dated 1795 and 1797 exist, but were actually coined in 1798. Conversely, a few 1798 half eagles with small eagle reverse were also produced, but are unbelievably rare.

Fascinating Fact: Benjamin Franklin proposed the turkey as the national bird of the United States. Eventually, the bald eagle won that honor. Researcher John Dannreuther once quipped had Franklin prevailed, we might be talking about the 1795 half turkey rather than the 1795 half eagle.(12)

The 1795 Capped Bust Small Eagle Reverse half eagle ranks among the most desired U.S. coins ever minted. Its importance as the first gold coin and as a scarce artifact from the nation’s founding has been the fueling consistent value increases over a very long period of time.

Estimated survivors in all grades: 550
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Learn more at PCGS.
PCGS Rarity Scale: 5.9
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
Learn more at PCGS.
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1795 Capped Bust Small Eagle $5 half eagle photos Classic rarity 1795 Capped Bust $5 half eagle values
Trendline Avg = 12.26 CLASSIC RARITY
Last updated 9-6-23
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1. PCGS.  1795 $5 Small Eagle (Regular Strike).  

2. Heritage Auctions.  1795 $5 Small Eagle, BD-1.  Jan 2015 Auction.

3. Taxay, Don.  The U.S. Mint and Coinage.  New York, NY: Sanford J. Durst Numismatic Publications, 1966.

4. Stack's Bowers Galleries.  1795 Half Eagle. Small Eagle.  Jun 2005 Auction.

5. Stack's Bowers Galleries.  1795 Half Eagle BD-1. Small Eagle.  Jun 2008 Auction.

6. Heritage Auctions.  1795 $5 Small Eagle, BD-3.  Jan 2022 Auction.

7. Heritage Auctions.  1795 $5 Small Eagle, BD-3.  Jan 2022 Auction.

8. Heritage Auctions.  1795 $5 Small Eagle, BD-3.  Jan 2022 Auction.

9. Heritage Auctions.  1795 $5 Small Eagle BD-6, S over D.  Jan 2011 Auction.

10. Heritage Auctions.  1795 $5 Small Eagle BD-6, S over D.  Jan 2011 Auction.

11. NGC.  Draped Bust $5 (1795-1807)

12. Heritage Auctions.  1795 $5 Small Eagle, BD-3.  Jan 2022 Auction.

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If you’re thinking about purchasing a rare coin, eBay is certainly worth a look. For your convenience, the links from this site to eBay are coded to bring up only coins certified by PCGS and NGC.

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Coin images by Stack's Bowers Galleries.