The 1798 Draped Bust Half Eagle represents an extremely rare variety of the series which was created through a set of unusual circumstances. A mere seven examples are confirmed to exist with the last public sale taking place more than a decade ago.
The half eagle denomination was first minted in 1795, also representing the first gold coins struck by the United States Mint. For the initial years of production from 1795 to early 1798, the reverse design featured a small eagle seated on a branch and holding a circular wreath within its beak. After this point, a new reverse design was adopted featuring a heraldic eagle with its wings spread and with a shield at its breast. The Mint would produce somewhat illogical combinations of the such as 1795 and 1797-dated half eagles with the heraldic eagle reverse, however the rarest would be the 1798 half eagle with the small eagle reverse.
The use of older obverse and reverse dies across multiple years has been attributed to a combination of the Yellow Fever epidemic, which had resulted in the closure of the Mint for periods during 1796-1798, and the high cost of dies, which prompted the Mint to utilize existing older dies for as long as they remained usable.
The original mintage of the 1798 Half Eagle with small eagle reverse has been estimated between 300 to 600 pieces, all struck from a single die pair. Only seven pieces have been confirmed to exist with an example graded PCGS EF40 most recently sold for $264,500 in 2000.