Bringing U.S. gold public: Q. David Bowers

U.S. Mint in Philadelphia introduces federal issues in 1790s
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 06/23/15
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The Joys of Collecting column from July 6 Monthly issue of Coin World:

The first federal gold coins struck were $5 half eagles, made in July 1795, the subject of last week’s column. The $10 eagle coinage followed soon thereafter.

Director Henry William de Saussure presented the first $10 coin to President George Washington, who had appointed de Saussure as the second director of the Mint (following the resignation of Dr. David Rittenhouse).

Washington lived not far away, as Philadelphia was the seat of the federal government at the time.

The design of the first eagle issue is similar to that of the contemporary half eagle and is also by Robert Scot, the Mint engraver. On the obverse Miss Liberty is shown wearing a conical cloth cap, facing right, with stars to the left and right.

Although this is sometimes called the Capped Bust design it is entirely different from the Capped Bust or Capped Draped Bust design introduced by John Reich in 1807 on the half eagle.

The reverse of the 1795 eagle, copied from the design of an ancient cameo, depicts an eagle perched on a palm branch holding a wreath aloft in its beak. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounds. The reverse bears no indication of the coin’s denomination or value.

During this era, gold coins of many nations circulated in American commerce, and their value was determined by a combination of weight and fineness (purity), various conversion charts being published from time to time in newspapers and journals. 

The eagles made their first appearance in circulation toward the end of 1795. From then until 1797, the last year of the type, close to 19,000 were coined. 

Mintage quantities of federal gold coins were not at the whim or pleasure of the Treasury Department, but were dictated by specific requests made by depositors of gold bullion. At the time, most incoming gold was in the form of foreign coins, as domestic deposits would not become important until the discoveries in Georgia and North Carolina in the 1820s.

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