Until the establishment of the double eagle in 1849, the Eagle (or Ten Dollar gold piece) was the highest denomination produced by the United States mint. These coins were struck from 1795 through 1804 but this denomination was discontinued until 1838 when the new Gobrecht Liberty Head design was introduced. Early Eagles have proven to be very popular with collectors over the years. These coins are big and beautiful and more available than the quarter eagles and half eagles produced during this time period. The dates from the 1790’s have proven to be especially popular and price levels have risen to record highs during the last few years.
Here is a date by date analysis of these coins which is written with the new collector in mind.
All eagles produced from 1795 through the first part of 1797 are found with a Draped Bust obverse and a Small Eagle reverse. The 1795 has two major varieties. The more common of the two is seen with thirteen leaves on the reverse. The rarer of the two has nine leaves on the reverse. Generally, collectors focus on the more available 13 leaves but the 9 leaves is recognized by both PCGS and NGC. Advanced collectors generally include this variety in a date set of early eagles, even when they do not focus on other die varieties. (FYI, there are a total of five die varieties for this issue).
There were of 5,583 1795 eagles produced. It is believed that around 5,083 employed the 13 leaves reverse while the remainder used the 9 leaves reverse. There are an estimated 400-500 1795 eagles known, including around 15-20 of the 9 leaves coins. Most 1795 eagles grade in the VF to EF range. AU coins are scarce but available. Properly graded AU55 to 58 coins are very scarce and Uncirculated coins are rare although they are far more available than the 1796 or 1797 Small Eagle. Most of the Uncirculated pieces in the MS60 to MS62 range are not choice. Examples exist in MS63 and MS64 and I am aware of at least four of five Gems that have been graded MS65 or better by PCGS or NGC. The 9 leaves variety is usually seen in AU and appears to not have circulated much. There are probably six to eight Uncirculated examples with the finest grading MS63.
The 1795 tends to be the best struck and most aesthetically appealing of the Small Eagle ten dollar gold pieces. The typical example has some weakness on the obverse hair behind the ear and at the lower portion of the cap. The stars are sometimes flat at the centers and on many the denticles are flatly impressed. The reverse shows weakness on the eagle’s neck and head and the denticles are often flat with a partially beveled appearance. The surfaces often show numerous small marks and on many of the 9 leaves coins, there are mint-made die chips and/or planchet defects in the fields. The luster is often frosty with a somewhat grainy texture. Some are known with reflective prooflike surfaces and at least a few have fully prooflike fields on the obverse and reverse. The natural coloration tends to be a deep yellow-gold. Others are seen with orange-gold or greenish-gold hues. There are a number of higher grade 1795 eagles with superb color but these are becoming very hard to find as more and more are dipped. Most circulated 1795 eagles show processed surfaces and original, attractively toned pieces are rare and worth at least a 20% premium over a typical example. There are a good number of extant 1795 eagles with acceptable eye appeal. The collector who is seeking one is urged to be patient as most of the examples offered for sale at auction or at coin shows are low end for the grade.
An “entry level” 1795 eagle is now worth in the area of $40,000-50,000 and a nice, solidly graded AU will cost at least $50,000-70,000+. Expect to spend over $100,000 for a nice Uncirculated example and multiples of this for a piece that approaches Condition Census.
Because of the fact that it is not a first-year-of-issue coin like the 1795, the 1796 has long been less popular than its counterpart. Until recently, it was even priced at a lower level. But collectors have learned that this is a much rarer date, especially in higher grades, and it now commands a significant premium over the 1795.
The reported mintage figure for the 1796 eagle is 4,146. It is likely that 150 or so are known today with most grading EF45 to AU55. The 1796 is quite rare in the higher AU grades and it is extremely rare in Uncirculated. I believe that as few as four to six true Uncirculated pieces are known with the best grading MS63.
The 1796 is not as well struck or as well produced as the 1795. On the obverse of most 1796 eagles, there is weakness of strike at the center and the hair behind Liberty’s face tends to be very weak with little actual definition. The radial lines in the stars seldom show full detail but the denticles are more clearly defined than on the 1795 eagle. The reverse is slightly better struck than the obverse. The weakest areas tend to be the eagle’s head and neck. The wing feathers are often sharply defined and the denticles are clearly evident. The surfaces are usually heavily abraded and have a pebbly texture that is probably the result of poor preparation of the planchet. I have seen many 1796 eagles that had substantial planchet voids or other mint-made defects. Any example with choice, minimally marked surfaces is extremely rare. The luster tends to be prooflike and it is usually impaired as a result of improper handling or heavy circulation. The natural coloration is a deep orange-gold hue. Most 1796 eagles have been cleaned at one time and any piece with attractive natural color is very rare. The level of eye appeal for this date is well below average.
Until a few years ago, it was possible to buy a nice example of the 1796 eagle for a reasonable figure. Today, the collector can expect to spend at least $75,000-85,000 for a decent example and well over $100,000 for a choice piece. A nice, unquestionably Uncirculated 1796 eagle would probably sell for over $200,000 today were it to become available.
1797 Small Eagle
Two distinct types of eagles exist from this year: the Small Eagle and the Heraldic Eagle. This is the only early eagle in which two types exist for one year and this makes the Small Eagle issues popular with type and date collectors.
The mintage figure for this issue is reported to be 3,615 but I believe that the actual number is lower. There are an estimated four to five dozen known with most in the EF45 to AU55 range. In Uncirculated, the 1797 Small Eagle is an exceptionally rare coin with probably no more than four or five pieces known. NGC has graded one in MS63 while PCGS has graded an MS62; none are better at either service.
The quality of strike seen on the 1797 Small Eagle is generally better than that found on the 1796. The 1797 has some flatness at the central obverse and on the radial lines of the stars; the reverse is usually much sharper than the obverse with very good detail seen at the center and border. On most, there is an obverse die crack from the final star up towards Liberty’s throat. The surfaces are often hairlined or abraded and many I have seen show mint-made adjustment marks. The luster is much different in texture than the 1796 with a dull, slightly reflective finish that is sometimes a bit frosty. The natural coloration seen on the 1797 Small Eagle is a light to medium greenish-gold. Very few exist that have not been cleaned or processed and original pieces are worth a considerable premium. The eye appeal for this date is generally below average and choice, attractive pieces are usually only offered for sale when important specialized collections of early gold become available.
Collectors who budget less than $100,000 for an example of this variety will probably not be able to purchase a 1797 Small Eagle. A nice AU coin will cost $125,000-150,000+ and a solid Uncirculated, if available, will run over $200,000.
1797 Large Eagle
The Heraldic Eagle reverse was added to United States gold coins in 1797. The 1797 Large Eagle is by far the more available of the types of eagles produced this year. Of the 10,940 struck, there are probably in the area of 300-400 known.
Unlike the 1795-1797 Small Eagle coins, the 1797 Large Eagle appears to have actually seen some circulation and pieces can be found in grades as low as Fine to Very Fine. Most are in the EF40 to AU55 range and examples can sometimes be found in the lower Uncirculated grades. But this issue becomes very rare in MS62 and it is excessively rare above this. NGC has graded a single coin in MS64 but the best I have personally seen is an MS63 and only two or three are known which grade as such.
The quality of strike is extremely distinctive for this issue. On the typical coin, the obverse appears to be much weaker than the reverse. I have seen pieces which, for example, have EF45 detail on the obverse but the appearance of AU55 or better on the reverse. The obverse is usually weak at the center with little definition seen on the hair strands. The denticles are also very weak and on some pieces they are lacking from 2:00 to 7:00. The reverse is much better struck with good detail seen on the eagle’s wings and on the shield. The surfaces are usually very heavily abraded and, for some reason, the obverse fields on many examples show roughness. The luster tends to be excellent with a range of textures seen. Many are very frosty but I have seen a few that were almost fully prooflike. The natural color is a deep yellow-gold and this can be exceptionally attractive on uncleaned, original higher grade pieces. The eye appeal ranges from well below average to above average. It is possible to locate a very nice 1797 Large Eagle ten dollar gold piece but collectors have come to realize that choice, higher grade pieces are much harder to find than once believed.
Until a few years ago, the 1797 Heraldic Eagle sold for about the same price as the more common 1799. But prices have risen dramatically for the 1797 in recent years and, today, an EF example sells for around $30,000 while AU coins range from $40,000 to $60,000 depending on their quality. For a nice Uncirculated piece, expect to spend at least $75,000-100,000 and possibly alot more depending on the coin’s eye appeal and originality.
1798/7 13 Stars Arranged 9 Left, 4 Right
Two varieties of 1798 eagle are known. Both are quite rare but the 1798/7 Stars 9+4 is clearly the more available of the two. The mintage figure for this variety has long been reported to be 900 coins but a number of experts believe that this figure is too low. I personally think the right number is more in the area of 1,500. I feel that there are around 60-80 pieces known with most in the EF50 to AU55 range. Properly graded AU58’s are quite rare and this variety is very rare in Uncirculated with perhaps as many as five or six known. The highest graded examples are a single MS63 at NGC and an MS62 at PCGS.
This is another early Eagle that has a very distinctive appearance due to its strike. The obverse is always weaker than the reverse and it tends to show weak peripheral detail from 2:00 to 5:00. The left side of the obverse is always sharper than the right and most examples have a thin but easily visible obverse die crack from the L in LIBERTY into the cap. The reverse is better struck although the left wing tends to have weakness. The surfaces on nearly all known examples are noticeably abraded and many show hairlines from past cleanings. It is also common to see 1798/7 9+4 eagles with heavy adjustment marks. The luster tends to be subdued with a slightly reflective appearance. The natural color is a medium green-gold with orange hues sometimes seen as well. I cannot recall having seen more than a small handful that had original, attractive color. This is a very rare coin with good eye appeal and most examples that are offered for sale are low end and/or overgraded.
The 1798/7 Stars 9+4 is one of the scarcer early eagles although its availability is actually a bit greater than sometimes stated. You can expect to spend at least $75,000-85,000 for an average quality example and over $100,000 for a solid, high end AU. If available, an Uncirculated piece will cost at least $200,000 and possibly much more for one of the finest known.
1798/7 13 Stars Arranged 7 Left, 6 Right
The second variety of eagle struck in 1798 is the rarest early eagle (not including, of course, the 1795 9 leaves). The mintage is reportedly 842 but I think this is on the high side and the actual number is more likely in the area of 500-600. There are only 20-25 pieces known and, surprisingly, most are in the AU grade range. I am aware of just two or three Uncirculated examples with the finest of these being a coin graded MS62 by PCGS.
The 1798/7 Stars 7+6 is a better produced variety than its 9+4 counterpart. The obverse shows good detail although the center has a slightly sunken appearance which can cause some weakness on the hair behind Liberty’s ear. Many of the stars have full radial lines and the denticles are long and fully formed. Many have a number of obverse die cracks including one through the E in LIBERTY and another at the left side of star seven. The surfaces on most examples have small mint-made flaws including chips and voids. These are seen most often in the obverse fields and the reverse tends to be better produced. The luster is slightly dull and grainy in texture. The majority of 1798/7 Stars 7+6 eagles have been cleaned at one time and, as a result, it is nearly impossible to locate an example with good luster and nice overall eye appeal.
This is a very rare coin in any grade and an issue that is generally only made available when major collections are sold at auction or via private treaty. The 1798/7 Stars 7+6 is clearly the key date in the early Eagle series. Plan on spending at least $200,000-250,000 for an average quality specimen and considerably more than this for one that approaches Condition Census.
I regard the 1799 as the “High Relief of Early Gold.” In other words, it is common and probably somewhat overvalued but since it is a big beautiful coin (and it has the magic 1790’s date) it will always be in great demand.
37,449 examples were struck and I estimate that as many as 750-1,000 are known today. The 1799 eagle can be found in a wide variety of grades. It is plentiful in EF and AU and not especially rare in the lower Uncirculated grades. It becomes scarce in MS63 and it is rare in MS64. Gems are extremely rare with maybe as few as five or six known.
1799 eagles can be found with sharp strikes. Most are seen with some weakness on the hair strands below Liberty’s cap and at the center of the reverse but it is possible with some patience to find an example that is sharp. The surfaces on most examples show signs of mishandling and some pieces have mint-made adjustment marks. It is possible to locate a piece with choice surfaces but this can be challenging. The luster on this issue is excellent and it is better than on any other dates of this type. High grade examples are often richly frosty. A smaller number are known with semi-reflective or even fully reflective fields but I personally prefer the coins with a frosty appearance. The natural coloration ranges from an intense yellow-gold to a deeper greenish-gold or even orange-gold. It has become hard to find 1799 eagles with original color and examples with good eye appeal are worth a premium.
There are no less than ten different die varieties known for this date. Some collectors divide 1799 eagles into two collectible varieties: Small Stars and Large Stars. The former is the scarcer of the two although it does not generally command much of a premium.
For the type collector, the 1799 is a perfect selection as it is probably the most available early eagle and it comes with a nice appearance. Expect to spend at least $25,000-30,000 for a decent quality piece and $40,000-50,000+ for a solid Uncirculated example.
The mintage figure for this date is reported to be 5,999 coins but this almost certainly includes examples dated 1801. The actual number of eagles struck in 1800 is probably more in the area of 7,500-10,000 coins. There are an estimated 225-325 known with most in the EF45 to AU55 range. The 1800 eagle is very scarce in the lower Uncirculated grades and it becomes quite rare in MS62. It is very rare in MS63 and extremely rare in MS64. PCGS has never graded a coin MS65 while NGC has graded just one at this level.
The quality of strike seen on the 1800 eagle varies. Some are found with reasonably good strikes while others are fairly weak at the centers, especially on the obverse. On most pieces, the obverse stars are flat at the centers and show incomplete radial lines. The reverse is usually better detailed. The surfaces on nearly all pieces show numerous abrasions and many have mint-made planchet imperfections which are frequently seen in the obverse fields. The luster is excellent with higher grade, original pieces having a rich, frosty texture that can be among the best seen on any early eagle. The natural coloration ranges from reddish-gold to yellow-gold and very few examples remain that have not been cleaned or dipped. The eye appeal for this date is generally below average. There are a few higher grade pieces that are visually stunning (the Pittman coin comes to mind) but most seen in today’s market are mediocre at best.
The 1800 generally sells for a 15-20% premium over a common date like a 1799 or an 1801 and this seems to be about right given its overall scarcity. A nice AU example will cost in the $35,000-40,000+ range while Uncirculated pieces range in price from $50,000 to well over $100,000.
The reported mintage figure for this date (44,344) includes coins dated 1800 (see above). The 1801 is the most common early eagle with as many as 750-1000 known including low grade and damaged pieces. The 1801 is common in circulated grades and it can be found in MS60 to MS62 without a great deal of difficulty. It is scarce in MS63 and rare in properly graded MS64. Gems are extremely rare. PCGS has graded three in MS65 and none better while NGC has graded just a single coin in MS65 and none better.
This is generally a well struck coin with some of the best detail seen on any date of this type. The obverse is usually very sharp with the center well defined; the reverse is also sharp although most have some weakness in the wings. Many examples have a number of mint-made vertical spines in the cap and show die clashes as well. The surfaces are typically abraded but are better produced than the 1799 and 1800. Examples exist which are comparably clean and free of marks and these are very scarce. I have seen a number of 1801 eagles that had prominent adjustment marks. The luster is not as good as on the 1799 but it is still among the best seen on any early eagle. It is most often frosty in texture. The natural coloration is usually green-gold or a bright yellow-gold. Locating uncleaned, original 1801 eagles is, as one might expect, very difficult and such coins command a premium versus the typical overdipped, processed piece.
The 1801 is comparable in overall rarity to the 1799 but, in my experience, it is a bit more scarce in MS63 and higher grades. It is less popular than the 1799 as it lacks the magical 1790’s date and it is priced a bit lower in certain cases. A nice AU example will run in the $30,000-40,000 range while Uncirculated pieces will cost $45,000 and up.
After a one-year hiatus, production of eagles resumed in 1803. During this year, the reported mintage was 15,017 but it was believed that some of this figure includes coins dated 1804. There are an estimated 400-500 examples known and this date, while regarded as fairly common, is clearly scarcer than the 1799 or 1801.
There are a total of six die varieties and this includes three interesting naked eye varieties. The most common has small stars on the reverse. Another variety has 13 large stars on the reverse. The rarest and most unusual variety has a tiny fourteenth star punched on the reverse which is hidden in the cloud below F in OF. This is one of the most interesting and enigmatic varieties in the entire early eagle series.
The quality of strike of this date depends on the die variety. Certain examples are quite weak on the base of Liberty’s neck and the lower right stars on the obverse. Others are sharper in these areas but show weakness at the centers. The surfaces on most 1803 eagles are very heavily abraded and many display pronounced adjustment marks. It is very hard to locate a coin with choice surfaces. The luster is typically below average as well with many showing a grainy, slightly dull texture. The natural color ranges from green-gold to a more reddish hue. It is hard to find an 1803 eagle with good eye appeal, especially the Large Reverse Stars.
The Large Reverse Stars and 14 Reverse Stars are both recognized by PCGS and NGC and they command a strong premium over the more common Small Reverse Stars. It is still possible to cherrypick the 14 Stars variety although most collectors and dealers now know to closely check the reverse.
This represents the final year during which early eagles were struck. After 1804, the denomination was discontinued and not resurrected until 1838. The mintage figure for this issue is reported to be 3,757 but I believe this includes coins dated 1803 and that the actual number struck is more in the area of 2,500-3,000. All examples produced in 1804 are distinguished by a Crosslet 4 in the date and it is likely that as few as 75-85 pieces are known. Most are seen in the EF45 to AU53 range and high end AU’s are extremely scarce. In Uncirculated, the 1804 eagle is quite rare with an estimated six to eight accounted for. The finest of these include a single MS64 at NGC and a pair of MS63’s at PCGS.
Many 1804 eagles are distinguished by an odd strike in which the obverse appears to be buckled with ridges or waves in the fields. Coins from this die state are very difficult to grade as they tend to show considerable weakness on both the obverse and reverse. Examples are known that show a bolder, more even strike and these are considered to be especially desirable by specialists. The surfaces on many 1804 eagles have mint-made imperfections and most show handling marks or hairlines from past cleanings as well. The luster is frosty and some examples are slightly prooflike. The natural coloration is a distinctive green-gold but most have been dipped at one time. The eye appeal tends to be below average, mainly due to the strike characteristics described above.
An estimated 6 to 8 Proof 1804 Plain 4 eagles were struck in 1834 or 1835. One of these is included in the famous King of Siam Proof Set. The Proof 1804 eagles are considered among the most desirable of all early United States gold coins even though they were struck three decades after their date.
1804 eagles are currently valued at around $40,000 for an EF and $50,000-75,000+ for an AU. Uncirculated pieces, when available, are valued at $100,000 or more.
The early eagles struck between 1795 and 1804 form one of the most interesting groups of coins in all of American numismatics. They are extremely popular with collectors and despite the high cost of assembling such a set, there are a number of collectors who are working on date sets; some of which even feature the major naked-eye varieties for each year.