The History of the 1795-1797 Capped Bust Heraldic Eagle
Robert Scot, who as Chief Engraver, had designed the previous design – “Small Eagle” – a variety of Half Eagle gold coins, took a great deal of complaints about the “Scrawny Eagle” on the reverse and modified his design to be more of a “Heraldic Eagle” similar to that on the Great Seal of the United States.
(Robert Scot’s “Scrawny Eagle” [left] and the Great Seal of the United States [right] after which Scot modeled his new eagle design.)
Scot’s new reverse had a larger and more dramatic eagle, more befitting our new gold coinage. Curiously, unknown numbers of Half Eagles dated 1795, 1796/5, 1797 with 16 Star obverse, and 1797 with 15 Star obverse all mysteriously began to appear in commerce. These coins and those with the Small Eagle reverse circulated simultaneously and it is believed that Scot created all of these coins, hoping that his Small Eagle design would be forgotten about once these were available. All of the above coins were believed to have been struck in 1798 and the total mintages reported for the Small Eagle design may well include the coins struck with this Heraldic Eagle design.
The Heraldic Eagle design utilizes the exact same obverse design with Miss Liberty wearing a “Turban-type cap” and facing right, with the date below her and stars in front of her and behind her. The motto “LIBERTY” is directly above her at the periphery.
The Heraldic Eagle reverse has a larger eagle, facing left, with an American shield for a body, wings upraised, 16 six-pointed stars are above the wings, and a grouping of clouds are above the stars. The legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” nearly encircles the periphery completely. In the eagle’s right talon are arrows and in her left talon is an olive branch, representing that America is ready for war or for peace.
This design received significantly more favorable commentary and was thought to represent a stronger and more mature the United States. The “heraldic eagle” coins were well-received by the public and merchants alike.
Although the mintages for the Heraldic Eagle Half Eagle coins for 1795 through 1797 are unknown, the year 1798 saw the Philadelphia Mint strike 24,867 Half Eagles. There are at least four varieties of 1798-dated Half Eagle coins:
- 1798 with a Small Eagle reverse
- 1798 Heraldic Eagle with a Small 8 in the date
- 1798 Heraldic Eagle with a Large 8 and 13 stars on the reverse
- 1798 Heraldic Eagle with a Large 8 and 14 stars on the reverse.
The year 1799 saw the mint strike 7,451 coins while in 1800 the mintage jumped to 37,628. There were no coins struck that were dated 1801 but in 1802 a whopping 53,176 coins were struck, all of which were overdates of 1802 2 Over 1. Dies were reused again in 1803 with 33,506 coins minted, again all of which are 1803 3 Over 2 overdates.
The popular date, 1804, saw two distinct varieties – a Small 8 and a Small 8 Over a Large 8. These two varieties divided up the 30,475 1804-dated coins. There were 33,183 coins struck by the Mint in 1805. In 1806 two varieties were minted with there being 9,676 coins struck with a Pointed-Top 6 and the more common Round-Top 6 which had 54,417 coins issued. In the final year, 1807, 32,488 coins were minted before the design was changed completely.
(1803 Over 2 Overdate $5.00 Capped Bust Half Eagle [left and center] and a close-up of the Overdate [right].)
|Date||Type||Mintage||Fine Value||Unc Value|
|1797 7 Over 5||Heraldic Eagle||Unknown||$25,000||$250,000|
|1797 16 Star Obv||Heraldic Eagle||Unknown||Unique||Unique|
|1797 15 Star Obv||Heraldic Eagle||Unknown||Unique||Unique|
|1798 Small 8||Heraldic Eagle||24,867||$7,500||$50,000|
|1798 Lg 8, 13*||Heraldic Eagle||Included||$6,000||$40,000|
|1798 Lg 8, 14*||Heraldic Eagle||Included||$6,500||$35,000|
|1802 2/1||Heraldic Eagle||53,176||$4,500||$20,000|
|1803 3/2||Heraldic Eagle||33,506||$4,500||$25,000|
|1804, All||Heraldic Eagle||30,475||$4,500||$20,000|
|1806 Pointed 6||Heraldic Eagle||9,676||$4,500||$18,000|
|1806 Round 6||Heraldic Eagle||54,417||$4,500||$24,000|
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