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1797 Eagle - Large Eagle - Eagle and Shield on Reverse
1797 Eagle - After featuring a small eagle on the reverse of the largest gold coins of the United States since 1795, the Mint changed to a heraldic design in mid 1797. The obverse remained the same, with the new reverse based on the obverse of the Great Seal of the United States. The so-called national coat of arms was based on a design made by Charles Thomson in 1782 when he was Secretary of the Continental Congress. It was first featured on the quarter eagles made in 1796, and is still seen in American commerce on the paper money of the one dollar denomination.

The total mintage of the 1797 eagle (1797 large eagle) ten dollar gold has traditionally been estimated to be 10,940 pieces, compromising of the deliveries from June 7, 1797 to January 30, 1798. Additional pieces, overdated 1798/7 were delivered on February 17 and February 28, 1798. After the last February delivery no new eagles would be delivered until May 1799. These numbers and dates have long been considered to be correct, but recent research published in both United States Ten Dollar Gold Eagles, 1795-1804 by Anthony J. Taraszka and Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties by Bass-Dannreuther has proved that the long anticipated numbers might be incorrect.

Three different die varieties of 1797 eagle (1797 large eagle ten dollar gold pieces) are known. Although the series is very seldom collected by varieties, the study of these different aspects is very interesting and has led to some interesting new discoveries. All three varieties were struck from a single obverse die, with the stars arranged ten left, six right. The different varieties are easily distinguished when viewed side by side, with the eagle’s neck being long and thin (BD-2, R-4+), short and thin (BD-3, R-5) or long and thin (BD-4, R-4+). By studying the obverse die state, which ranges from perfect on some BD-2 pieces to cracked and lapped on the final BD-4 coins, it has been concluded that the BD-3 and BD-4 pieces were struck after all 1798 eagles. These employ the same reverse die, which is in an earlier state on those coins then on the two final 1797 gold eagles.

With this information, one has to conclude that it seems highly unlikely that the last two deliveries consisted of only 1798 dated coins. The emission sequence has now been determined to be 1797 BD-2 ---> both 1798 varieties ---> 1797 BD-3 ---> 1797 BD-4, providing the information that perhaps all 1798 eagles were delivered in January 1798, with the 1797 eagle obverse die still in the condition that it was able to strike the 1,742 coins compromising the deliveries of February 1798. It was unknown at the time that no new coins of the ten dollar denomination would be struck until May 1799, so perhaps Mint personnel wanted to save the 1798 dated dies for further use.

The 1797 eagle (1797 large eagle ten dollar gold pieces) also feature a characteristic seen on the remaining dates of the series. The stars, displayed above the eagle are featured in either a “arc” or “cross” pattern. The first are believed to be the product of engraver Robert Scot, who also had designed the small eagle design. The latter was featured on dies engraved by John Smith Gardner All three reverse dies used on the 1797 coinage are believed to be the work of John Smith Gardner, although the BD-3 variety is open to debate. It features elements of both engravers, which has led some authors to conclude that the die was a corporation between both Smith and Garner. After 1799, Robert Scot’s arc pattern of reverse stars was featured on all reverse dies.

The estimated number of survivors for this date, regardless of variety, is usually considered to be between 200 and 250 pieces. While this is by no means a high number, examples are relatively available in Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated grades, in the context of the series of course. All three varieties are usually offered a few times a year at public auction, although some patience might be needed when acquiring the BD-3 variety. Certain die states are exceptionally scarce, like the State d/a of BD-4. These rarities are usually do not have a big influence on the price levels of these pieces, as there are currently no published sets of the series by date, variety and die state.

Regardless of variety, mint state survivors are very rare, as are all dates of the series. Most that do exist are heavily abraded, grading not higher than MS-62. A few select pieces exist that have been graded MS-63, and a single MS-64 is known (graded by NGC). Offerings of uncirculated examples are very rare, with no more than a handful pieces being offered at public auction within a given year. With all these factors, the ownership of a premium quality mint state 1797 eagle (1797 large eagle ten dollar gold piece) must be considered a true prize for the connoisseur of these magnificent coins.



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1797 Eagle - Eagle and Shield on Reverse - 1797 Large Eagle. 1797 Eagle is one of the Early Gold Eagles minted from 1795 - 1804.

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