The Joys of Collecting column from June 29 issue of Coin World:
In Colonial and early Federal times gold coins were important in
commerce. The gold escudos (worth about $2) and their multiples, were
essential in large transactions, especially in the export trade. Even
cents and the 8-real coin or dollar. These coins were of the Spanish
monetary system and were produced there as well as in that country’s
New World possessions. Coins of Great Britain, Holland, France, and
other countries were in wide use, and many were made legal tender by
the American government.
The Mint Act of April 2, 1792, gave specifications
for a planned federal coinage from the half cent upward. Three gold
coins were listed: the eagle or $10 and its fractional parts the $2.50
quarter eagle and $5 half eagle. The composition of such pieces was
set as 11 parts of pure gold to 1 part of alloy (years later it was
changed to 90 percent gold and 10 percent alloy).
Surety bonds of $10,000 each were required for Chief Coiner Henry Voigt and Assayer Albion Cox, an amount equal to the best
part of $1 million today. The bond requirements were eventually
adjusted and met.
It was not until about May 1795 that David Rittenhouse, director of the Mint since
its inception, assigned engraver Robert Scot to produce half eagle
dies. Rittenhouse left the Mint at the end of June and was replaced by
Henry William DeSaussure, who ordered that gold coin production should
begin. On July 31, 744 half eagles were delivered, followed by
subsequent amounts through September totaling 8,707 pieces for the year.
The Small Eagle reverse design was apparently taken from a first
century B.C. Roman onyx cameo depicting an eagle perched on a palm
branch, its wings outstretched, holding aloft a circular wreath in his beak.
In 1795, at least eight obverse dies were made with that date. Not
all were used. 1795-dated dies were used in later years as well,
including in 1798 in combination with the new Heraldic Eagle reverse.
Over a dozen different die combinations are known.
Published mintage figures of early U.S. coins often differ from the
number of coins struck bearing a particular date, as dies were kept in
service until they became unusable.
More from CoinWorld.com:
States Mint releases image mock-ups for 2016 gold dime, quarter
dollar, half dollar
Reagan First Spouse coin designs being reviewed by CCAC
mechanic’s valuable error Chinese note draws attention years after discovery
G. Partrick Collection auctions by Heritage placed on hold
Special Silver Set 'Currently Unavailable' from United States Mint
Keep up with all of CoinWorld.com's news and insights by
up for our free eNewsletters,
liking us on Facebook
us on Twitter
. We're also on