Know your U.S. coins: Capped Bust $10 eagle

Was the Capped Bust $10 eagle a failure? Let's look at the facts.

· It failed to circulate widely.

· It had so much gold content that it was more profitable to melt than use for its $10 value.

· Much of the production was shipped overseas.

· When production of the $10 denomination was halted after fewer than 136,000 coins were struck, none were produced for more than 30 years.

Sounds like a failure, doesn't it?

COIN VALUES: Know how much your Capped Bust $10 eagle gold coin is worth today

All of these problems were the result of a fatal blunder by Congress when it authorized the denomination in 1792.

Congress first considered a $10 gold coin, called the eagle, in 1786, when it proposed a coinage system that included a $10 gold coin containing 246.268 grains of pure gold. That proposal never became law.

When in 1792 Congress finally authorized a national coinage, it pegged the relative value of silver to gold at 15 to 1. That was a mistake, and it doomed the $10 eagle three years before the first specimens were ever struck.

The market relationship between the two precious metals was closer to 16 to 1 than 15 to 1. At 15 to 1, gold coins could be melted and sold for more than their face value in silver, notes Q. David Bowers in his United States Gold Coins: An Illustrated History.

The $10 eagle was not a popular size. Its value was too high for small transactions but it was too small for convenient transportation. Compounding the problem was a decision by Congress to permit foreign gold coins to have legal tender status in the United States.

Because of the improper valuation, and ready sources of more convenient foreign gold coins, the Capped Bust eagle did not circulate widely during the period in which it was struck: 1795 to 1804. Production during that 10-year period totaled 135,592, which very small when compared to 21st century production levels.

The final straw occurred in 1803 when France revised its silver-to-gold ratio to 15.5 to 1. Large numbers of U.S. gold coins were exported or melted.

President Jefferson ordered a halt to production and Mint Director Elias Boudinot stopped production in 1804 after 3,757 eagles were struck.

No $10 eagles were struck for 30 years. A handful of 1804-dated eagles were struck in 1834 and 1835 for inclusion in Proof sets to be presented to foreign rulers. Those post-dated 1804 eagles can be distinguished from the "real" thing by the Plain 4 each of the 1834 and 1835 strikes bear (versus the Crosslet 4 of the originals).

The unpopularity of the Capped Bust gold eagle when it was in production has only enhanced its collectibility today.

While none of the coins can be considered common, complete sets can be built, for a price. Collectors may want to collect two type coins, based on the two different reverse designs.

The Capped Bust obverse was mated to two distinctly different reverses. A Small Eagle design was used in 1795, 1796 and 1797, before a Heraldic Eagle design was introduced in 1797. Die variety collectors will find several interesting pieces to collect: two 1798/7 overdates, different numbers of leaves on the reverse of the 1795 coins, different arrangements of stars in 1798, and several star-related varieties in 1803.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

Cents and half cents:

2- and 3-cent coins:


Dimes and half dimes:


Half dollars:


Gold coins:

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