By CoinWeek ….
In not quite two weeks, bidding ends on this 1912 Indian Head $5 gold half eagle, graded Proof 67 by NGC, on GreatCollections.com.
According to the Red Book, only 144 Proof half eagles are known to have been minted at Philadelphia in 1912. This falls somewhere in the middle for Proof Indian Head half eagles (the smallest mintage was 75 in 1915 and the largest was in 1910 with 250), but by any measure, it is not a common coin. Additionally, Proof Indian Head half eagles were given what is referred to as a “Matte Proof” finish, which has a frosty, sandblasted appearance in contrast to regular Proof coinage. The reason for this was because the new coin design dies came into direct contact with the entire planchet, dulling the fields of the struck coin. The matte finish was applied to differentiate them from business strikes.
NGC reports 17 grading events at PF-67, with only three higher at PF-68. The highest auction price for an NGC PF-67 Indian Head half eagle is $56,400 USD, achieved in August 2015. Auction records from the last decade average about 20% lower, with an example garnering $43,125 in July 2012, $46,000 in March 2012, and $46,000 in April 2011.
The record price for a Proof 67, regardless of grading company, is $69,000, which dates all the way back to August 1999.
To see how the coin has performed on GreatCollections, be sure to check out their Auction Archives of over 600,000 certified coins sold in the past seven years. At the time of writing, this 1912 PF-67 Indian Head half eagle is currently sitting at a mere $5,000 after 21 bids.
The first decades of the 20th century were a time of great creativity in the design of U.S. coinage. Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ double eagle and Indian Head eagle were introduced in 1907. Victor D. Brenner’s Lincoln cent, commemorating the centennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s birth, was the first circulating coin to feature a presidential portrait; it debuted in 1909. James Earl Fraser’s Buffalo (Indian Head) nickel first came out in 1913, followed shortly thereafter by Adolf A. Weinman’s Winged Liberty Head (Mercury) dime and Walking Liberty half dollar, and Hermon A. MacNeil’s Standing Liberty quarter, in 1916. The same time span saw the release of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition commemorative coins, including the Charles E. Barber/George T. Morgan quarter eagle and Robert Aitken’s round and octagonal $50 gold pieces.
Following the public’s positive reaction to Saint-Gaudens’ stunning efforts on the $10 and $20 gold pieces, President Theodore Roosevelt focused his attention on two other gold denominations: the $2.50 quarter eagle and the $5 half eagle.
Unfortunately, Saint-Gaudens died in 1907, his designs for the denominations unfinished.
Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow, a physician and art collector from Boston (who also happened to be a close personal friend of the president), had admired Egyptian reliefs displayed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. So Bigelow promulgated the idea of using a sunken, or incuse, design on American coins. Roosevelt agreed.
Bigelow contacted Boston sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt, a former student of Saint-Gaudens, to realize designs for the gold coins. Pratt used the same portrait on both, a realistic image of a native American chief. The reverse displayed a bold standing eagle, a virtual copy of and perhaps tribute to the design Saint-Gaudens had used on both the Roosevelt inaugural medal and the Indian Head eagle.
Not everyone approved of the designs. Some thought the recessed areas would collect dirt and thus become a vector for disease. Others found fault with both the portrait and the eagle, though Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber, ever conscious of the technical necessities of coin production, had modified Pratt’s original eagle design. Claims that the coins could be easily counterfeited or wouldn’t stack properly (the latter an odd comment given the fact that the coins were rimless and had no design high points above the flat field) did not sway the president, and the new design was implemented.
Starting in 1908, the Indian Head half eagle was minted yearly through 1916. The type was struck once more in 1929, after which production permanently stopped.
The obverse is dominated by a left-facing portrait of a Native American chief wearing a feathered war bonnet. LIBERTY is at the top, and the date at the bottom. Six five-pointed stars are placed to the left along the coin edge, and seven to the right. The designer’s initials “B.L.P.” are located below the portrait and above the date.
The reverse displays a standing eagle facing to the left, perched upon a bundle of arrows with an entwined olive branch. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is at the top and the denomination FIVE DOLLARS is at the bottom, the words of both phrases separated by centered dots. E PLURIBUS UNUM, each word on a separate line, is to the left of the eagle. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST, also with each word on a separate line, is to the right.
Indian Head half eagles were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, and New Orleans; D, S, and O mintmarks are located just to the left of the arrowheads. All design features except the mintmarks are incuse, recessed below the field.