By CoinWeek ….
The key to the Indian Head quarter eagle series, bidding ends Sunday, August 16 at GreatCollections.com for this “Strong D” 1911-D certified MS-63 by PCGS. It is part of the P. Hall Collection of Indian Head Quarter Eagles.
With only 55,680 pieces minted, the 1911-D $2.50 gold quarter eagle features the lowest mintage of the series; the next-lowest mintage (the 1914) had a mintage almost four times larger. When the type debuted in 1908, many collectors impugned the coin’s design–especially the fact that it was incuse, or engraved into the surface, instead of raised or in relief–and so fewer specimens were saved than one might expect for the oft-called “Renaissance of American Coinage”. This means that examples of Indian Head quarter eagles are rarer than their official mintages imply, and this is true of the key date 1911-D as well.
It also follows that high-grade specimens of the 1911-D are even harder to find. While almost all Indian Head quarter eagles are relatively well struck (and have a wire rim on the obverse), 1911-D examples in high Mint State are encountered only rarely. Even a grade like MS-63 is infrequently offered at auction. Because of this, the 1911-D is a favorite target of counterfeiters who attempt to alter the mint mark by adding a “D” onto 1911 Philadelphia issues. Buying only certified examples of the Denver issue is highly recommended.
Complicating matters somewhat, the Denver mint mark often comes weakly struck; the designation “Weak D” is given by NGC to account for these pieces. Preferring to focus on the smaller number of well-struck mint marks, PCGS instead designates “Strong D” pieces – of which the current coin is a good example. PCGS reports 435 specimens graded MS-63, with 390 coins certified higher; the top pop coin is a solitary MS-66+ with no auction records.
Prices over the last year or so for genuine PCGS-graded MS-63 Strong D 1911-D quarter eagles fall in the $7,000 to $10,000 USD range. An example sold for $9,600 just two months ago, and two different coins sold for $7,200 and $7,800 at the same auction in March. A specimen went for $8,100 in January 2020, and another piece garnered $8,700 in October 2019.
In March of 2019, an example sold for $11,750. This was the tail-end of an over-five-year period during which the Strong D 1911-D quarter eagle sold for more than $10K, with highwater marks in April 2016 and February 2015 ($14,100 each time).
For more information on the 1911-D Indian Head quarter eagle’s performance on GreatCollections.com–or any coin’s, for that matter–be sure to check out the company’s Auction Archives of over 600,000 certified coins sold in the past seven years.
After 21 bids, the current high bid on this coin is $7,100.
A Brief History of the Indian Head Quarter Eagle
The beginning of the 20th century saw a burst of creativity for circulating coinage in the United States.
American sculptor August Saint-Gaudens’ $20 double eagle was introduced in 1907, along with his Indian Head $10 eagle. In 1909, Victor D. Brenner’s Lincoln cent, commemorating the centennial of the President’s birth, broke new ground – it was the first use of a presidential portrait on a circulating coin. A few years later in 1913, James Earl Fraser’s Indian Head, or Buffalo, nickel was introduced, followed in 1916 by Adolf Weinman’s Winged Liberty (“Mercury”) dime and Liberty Walking half dollar and Hermon A. MacNeil’s Standing Liberty quarter.
Following the acclaim received for Saint-Gaudens’ stunning efforts on the $10 and $20 gold pieces, President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt turned his attention to the other two gold denominations then in production: the quarter eagle and the half eagle.
Saint-Gaudens, who had done some work for the smaller denomination gold coins, died in 1907 and so those designs remained unfinished. Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow, a physician and art collector from Boston, had admired Egyptian reliefs displayed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. A close friend of the president, Bigelow promoted the idea of using a sunken design on American coins. Roosevelt agreed. Bigelow then contacted and persuaded fellow Bostonian Bela Lyon Pratt–a former student of Saint-Gaudens–to create designs for the gold coins.
Pratt used the same portrait on both denominations, a realistic image of a Native American chief. The reverse displayed a bold standing eagle – a virtual copy of and perhaps a tribute to the design Saint-Gaudens had used both on his 1905 Roosevelt inaugural medal and the Indian Head eagle. The use of an Indian on the coin followed the appearance of G.F.C. Smillie’s portrait of a Sioux Chief on the 1899 $5 silver certificate, but the imagery may also have been recognition of Roosevelt’s frontier heritage.
Not everyone approved of the designs, however, and Philadelphia coin dealer Samuel H. Chapman was one of the most vigorous in opposition. The incuse design, with devices and legends below the fields of the coin, promised to reduce wear on the features, but some thought the recessed areas would collect dirt and thus become a source of disease. These fears turned out to be unfounded.
Others criticized 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 (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.
The Indian Head quarter eagle was minted yearly through 1915, after which production stopped, and then again from 1925 through 1929, an apparent victim of the stock market crash.
The obverse of the 90% gold coin is dominated by a left-facing portrait of a determined-looking Native American chief wearing a full-feathered war bonnet. LIBERTY is at the top and the date is at the bottom. Six five-point 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, the words separated by centered dots, is at the top, and the denomination 2 1/2 DOLLARS is at the bottom. E PLURIBUS UNUM, each word on a separate line, is to the left of the eagle. IN GOD WE TRUST, also with each word on a separate line, is to the right.
The edge is reeded.
Business strike Indian Head quarter eagles were minted at Philadelphia and Denver; the D mintmark is located just to the left of the arrowheads. All design features except the D mintmark are incuse, recessed below the field, with no design elements higher than that flat surface. Matte Proofs were made from 1908 through 1915, and a few hundred examples have been certified. The matte finish was not popular with collectors at the time of issue, and many unsold pieces were later melted by the Mint.