The NGC Universal ID is a four digit alphanumeric that groups coins based on a unique combination of date, mintmark, denomination and striking process (MS, PF, or SP). These IDs are a simple organization of all coins prior to variety attribution and grading.
Mint documents indicate 6,934 eagles were minted in 1796, but numismatists believe some of them were actually dated 1795. All 1796-dated eagles are from a single die variety, BD-1, with a distinctive obverse featuring 16 stars in an 8x8 pattern. Since Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the 16th state on June 1, 1796, the 1796-dated coins must have been minted afterward, and earlier deliveries were most likely dated 1795. Deliveries of ten dollar gold coins from June 2 to December 22, 1796, totaled 4,146 pieces, the accepted production total in the 2011 Guidebook.
Actually, the mintage figures are even more uncertain than previously believed, because recent die state research indicates some 1796-dated coins were actually struck after the 1797 Small Eagle issue. The 1797 Small Eagle emission used the same reverse die as the 1796-dated coins. A single 1796 eagle is known that exhibits die cracks absent on the 1797 coins, indicating the die must have been used to coin some 1796 eagles later, and it cracked during this emission. As John Dannreuther notes in Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties:
'This date was struck on more than one occasion with a few produced after the 1797 Small Eagle variety that employs the same reverse. The single known example of 1796 with reverse die cracks indicates that some 1796 State d/c coins were struck after the 1797 ones. Thus, this remarriage of these dies to produce some of the coins dated 1796 further confuses the situation as to the number coined of each date.'
The number of 1796 coins produced in the following year must have been small, since only one coin is known with the telltale die cracks. The currently accepted mintage figure is probably not far from the truth, and the estimated surviving population of 125-175 examples is in line with an original mintage of about 3,500-4,000 pieces.
The 1796 Capped Bust Right eagles were favorites of early collectors, and serious research was accomplished on these coins at an early date. The use of 16 obverse stars was continued in 1797, but the arrangement was different. The unique 8x8 star placement may have attracted collector interest early on. The fact that only one die variety exists for the 1796 eagle was discovered by John Colvin Randall as early as the mid-1880s. In the sale of the Randall Collection (Woodward, 9/1885), lot 979 in the eagles section reads, '1796 Same type, and in quality equal to the last. I have met with no other variety of 1796.'
The popularity of this date has only increased over the years, and new price records continue to be set.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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