Q. David Bowers: The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993). Note: the Notable Specimens list should be used with caution - it has been updated in my 2013 edition of "The Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars 1794-1804."
OBVERSE 1: 15 stars. The only 1798 dollar with 15 stars. Undoubtedly, this die was made in 1795 or before June 1796, during which time 15 stars were standard; the die was complete except for the date. In 1798 the uncompleted die had the date added and was used to coin this variety. (Alternatively and less likely, it could have been a die cutting error similar to the 1817 15-stars cent.)
The highest wave of hair is incomplete, probably from relapping, which also caused certain lower hair curls to be incomplete. Band R in LIBERTY each tilted slightly right.
Wide numeral 8 in date; with top interior space of 8 a horizontal oval and the bottom a circle; a punch unique to this obverse, not used elsewhere in the early dollar series (not for the 8 on later dates such as 1800, 1801, etc., which have vertical oval spaces within the 8). This distinctive 8 punch was regularly used on 1798 $10 gold coins. It is possible that the obverse die was made circa 1795 but with just the first three date digits, 179, punched in; the final 8 could have been added in 1798 by selecting a punch from the wrong font. Squared-off bottom to 7.
Obverse die used to strike 1798 BB-81 only.
REVERSE A: Described under 1795 BB-51, herewith repeated: Small Eagle. Small Letters in legend. Eagle stands on clouds. Wreath is composed of a palm branch (right) and olive branch (left), the latter with seven berries. Berry under A of STATES; a quick way to identify this reverse.
This identical die, now relapped (as it had been since the coinages of 1796), was used in combination with six obverses during its life. The definition on the reverse is weak, due to the lapping of an already shallow cut die.
Reverse die used to strike 1795 BB-51; 1796 BB-62, BB-63, and BB-66 (now relapped); 1797 BB-72; and 1798 BB-81.
Die State I: Early state without obverse relapping; highest wave of hair boldly defined. May not exist. Â (Mark Borckardt, in a note to the author, stated "One could speculate that this die was lapped before striking coins. If the die was made c. 1795 without the final digit, lapping may have served the purpose of removing small rust pits or other defects before use.)
Die State II: Lapped obverse die; without obverse die cracks. This is the state typically encountered.
Die State III: Obverse crack from under chin to border below star 15. Described by Warren Miller from his collection and not seen by the author.
COLLECTING NOTES: Of the two 1798 dollars with Small Eagle reverse (BB-81 and BB-82), BB-81 is the rarer by a slight amount. An estimated 500 to 800 exist. Most examples of BB-81 are seen in lower grades. VF is about par, even in some of the finest collections.
The 15-star count on the obverse (the type of '95 and '96) makes the 1795 BB-81 variety especially desirable as a major type. All other 1798 obverses, regardless of reverse type, have the standard 13 stars. The use of the much-mated Small Letters reverse die with this unusual obverse lends further interest. Here, indeed, is one of the most desirable varieties among early dollars.
Most if not all specimens of 1798 BB-81 have light striking at the centers of the topmost obverse stars. The bottom stars-especially 1, 2, 13, 14, and 15-- are usually sharp. The reverse is always weaker than the obverse (an identical situation to that of 1797 BB-72), with the result that grading is by the obverse only. A coin with a VF-30 obverse typically has a reverse grading F-15 to VF-20.
Auction '87 Specimen. MS-60. Superior, Auction '87, 1987: 1812. "The obverse is much sharper than the reverse. The surfaces are very lustrous and give no indication of rubbing or friction. Both sides are overlaid with rich tan gold toning; the obverse shows a number of adjustment marks at its center."
Clarke Specimen. MS-60. James G. Macallister. T. James Clarke Collection, New Netherlands 48th Sale, 1956: 621. "Strictly Uncirculated. The obverse, perfectly centered with bold denticles, is just about pristine. The reverse, off-center toward the bottom, shows the customary flatness at eagle's neck, breast and left leg, plus a very few infinitesimal marks. Delicate pink and blue iridescent toning."
FUN Convention Sale Specimen. MS-60. Mid American, Florida United Numismatists. Convention Sale, 1987: 687. "Blue gray with some iridescent rose and silver at rims, adjustment marks across face; eagle's breast not fully struck."
San Diego Sale Specimen. MS-61. Mid American, San Diego Sale, 1989: 715. "Surfaces are a bit dull. This piece may have been exposed to heat or, less likely, it may have been in sea water for a period of time."
Grand Central Convention Sale Specimen. AU-58. Lester Merkin, Grand Central Convention, 1965: 301. "Better than AU; really an unworn coin with touches of cabinet friction on cheek, shoulder and eagle's breast. Mint lustre blends pleasingly with iridescent toning varying from chartreuse to pearl gray."
Shore Specimen. AU-58. Superior, Shore Collection, 1988: 2197. "Shows no wear, just some rubbing on the high spots. Strike is exceedingly sharp with unusually strong definition on reverse. The obverse has a rich rose overtone which is accentuated by bursts of antique olive gold; the reverse is rose with faint lilac and gold undertones."
Anderson-Dupont Specimen. AU-55. Stack's Anderson-Dupont Collection, 1954: 2500. "Uncirculated, full mint lustre, but weakly struck on center obverse and reverse. Faintly streaked planchet." Harold Bareford Collection, Stack's, 1981: 412. "About Uncirculated with full frosty lustre." Yolanda Gross Collection.
Hollinbeck-Kagin Specimens. AU-55. June, 1970: 606.
"Nearly Uncirculated with lustre."Â• 21st MANA Convention Sale, Kagin's, 1973: 1302. "Nearly Uncirculated with lovely blue and gray patina, some original mint lustre. Sharply struck with full edge dentilation around both sides!
Wayne Miller Collection
Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection - Bowers & Merena 4/1997:2180 - Flannagan Collection - Bowers & Merena 11/2001:4230 - American Numismatic Rarities 6/2005:23, $103,500