Do you have an Indian Head gold piece in your coin collection? If not, why not? Both the half eagle and quarter eagle Indian Heads are great coins with a rare incuse design and an interesting history.
The Indian Head Design
The half eagle and quarter eagle Indian Head coins, designed by sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt, are contemporaries of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ eagle and double eagle coins. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt conceived of the idea to hire Saint-Gaudens to design a more modern and artistic coinage for America as he was unimpressed with the coins already in circulation. Roosevelt wanted redesigns of five denominations of U.S. coins without having to involve Congress.
Saint-Gaudens designed the eagle and the double eagle before his untimely death in 1907. Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow, a friend of Roosevelt’s, knew of the President’s intentions and was impressed with Saint-Gaudens’ designs. He had been working with Pratt on a idea that involved striking coins in high relief – the benefits being that high relief coins would wear more slowly and stack more easily. He introduced President Roosevelt to Pratt in 1908 and Pratt began making plaster models right away.
Pratt used the design of Saint-Gaudens’ eagle coins as the basis for the reverse of the Indian Head coins, but he replaced Lady Liberty with the profile of an unknown Indian man for the obverse. Pratt’s half and the quarter eagle Indian Head coins are identical in design. The obverse features a man in a feathered headdress facing left. Pratt’s initials are located just above the date of mintage. The image on the reverse is of an eagle standing on arrows with an olive branch clasped in its left talon. The words, “In God We Trust,” “E Pluribus Unum,” “United States of America,” and the coins’ denomination are also included.
Because of the incuse design and the fact that the coins were thinner as a result, the mints had problems striking these coins. Some rare versions exist due to problems the Denver and San Francisco mints experienced in getting this coin produced. The half and the quarter eagle entered circulation in November of 1908 and were not an immediate hit. They were struck every year until 1915. The half eagle was struck in 1916 and then again in 1929. The quarter eagle was struck again from 1925-1929. The 1929 coins are rarer because few entered commerce and, under President Franklin Roosevelt, unreleased gold coins were melted down (as was other confiscated gold coinage). A few later date coins survive with 1930-S Indian Head eagle being a key date. A small number from 1933 also survived FDR’s gold meltdown and are very valuable today.
Indian Head coins are unique among American and world coins in their design. They are a valuable addition to any coin collection and make great gifts. If you are interested in acquiring one or more Indian Head eagles, call Grand Rapids Coins. We would be delighted to help you find them.