In circulated and even lower Mint State condition, the Philadelphia issue 1911 Indian Head eagle is often collected as a type coin. With an original mintage of 505,500, the 1911 is one of the most common issues of the series and surviving examples tend to be well struck and come nicer than other Indian Heads.
But once again, a “common” coin proves to be much harder to find in high gem, and recent auction records bear this out.
NGC lists only four examples of the issue certified MS-68, with none higher. In February 2016, one of those four specimens went for $70,500 USD. But in August 2013, an example garnered $94,000 – which is not only the record price for an MS-68 1911 Indian Head gold eagle but is also the record price for any 1911 $10 eagle, period.
At the time of writing, the price on this coin offered by GreatCollections is $41,000 after 10 bids.
To check GreatCollections for their sales involving 1911 and other Indian Head With Motto gold eagles–both with and without CAC approval–search through the GreatCollections Auction Archives, with records for over 600,000 certified coins the company has sold over the past seven years.
A Brief History of the Indian Head Eagle
In 1907 a collaboration between President Teddy Roosevelt and renown American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens resulted in new designs for both the $20 and $10 gold coins. Saint-Gaudens’ design on the eagle featured an effigy of Lady Liberty facing left wearing a many-feathered bonnet that displays LIBERTY across the front. Strands of flowing hair appear below the headdress at the forehead and across the side to the back. Thirteen six-point stars form an arc inside the top third of the raised rim above, though slightly touching, the feathers of the headdress. The date is centered at the bottom, crowding both the portrait and the rim. Liberty was modeled after the figure of Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory) that was part of Saint-Gaudens’ equestrian Sherman Monument located at the entrance to Central Park in New York City.
On the reverse, a majestic eagle faces left and rests on a bundle of arrows with an olive branch intertwined. Inside the raised rim is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA at the top and TEN DOLLARS at the bottom, the words of both legends separated by centered, somewhat triangular dots. At the upper right, above but touching the eagle and below OF AMERICA is E PLURIBUS UNUM, each word on a separate line; to the left of the eagle is IN GOD WE TRUST, also in three lines.
The edge of the coin features 46 raised stars through 1911, and 48 stars from 1912 forward (the stars representing the number of states in the Union).
But while the sculptural effects of the original designs are admired, the representation of Liberty adorned by a ceremonial Native American headdress not worn by females was incongruous; and the eagle, though dramatically posed, is not anatomically correct (the legs are longer, for example).
Artistic license aside, a greater problem for the Mint was that the raised edge of the first Indian Head eagles would not stack, and the modified Rounded Rim pieces apparently would not strike with satisfactory quality. It was left to the often maligned Chief Engraver Charles Barber to make additional changes (he had also changed the Raised Rim to the Rounded Rim) so that the Indian Head eagle could be produced efficiently and in sufficient quantities for commerce.
The changes were successful in terms of production, and hundreds of thousands of the eagles were minted in the first two years of the type. The first Indian Head eagles omitted the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, which appeared on the previous Liberty Head eagle, and which was in fact mandated by the Act of March 3, 1865 but left off by Saint-Gaudens.
Many commentators attribute that omission to the will of President Roosevelt, who apparently believed that placing religious sentiment on circulating coinage was a form of blasphemy (the same coin that showed up in this week’s offering plate might be on the gambling table next week). Congress disagreed, however–likely encouraged by strong public opinion–and the motto was added to the reverse for issues produced later in 1908 and beyond.
Indian Head With Motto eagles were minted yearly from 1908 through 1916, but none were minted from 1917 through 1919, 1921 through 1925, 1927 through 1929, or in 1931. A total of 505,500 eagles were minted in 1911. Though over 300,000 With Motto Indian Head eagles were minted in 1933, the last year of the type, most were melted prior to extensive distribution after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s April 1933 Executive Order 6102, which severely limited the possession of gold by U.S. citizens.
And in what was perhaps a tribute to Saint-Gaudens’ artistic skills, Bela Lyon Pratt used a virtual copy of the gold 10 dollar reverse eagle in his designs for the quarter eagle and half eagle gold coins of the same era.