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The Most Important Coin I’ve Ever Handled

By Mark Borckardt ……….

During 33+ years as a full time professional numismatist, I have had the opportunity to examine and handle many of the most important rarities in the American series, including two Brasher doubloons, all five 1913 Liberty nickels, two 1894-S dimes, and four 1804 silver dollars. I have handled 80 of the 100 greatest U.S. coins according to the study published by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.

1907 Wire Rim Indian eagle with a plain edge.
1907 Wire Rim Indian eagle with a plain edge.

I had the pleasure of examining and researching a coin that I believe carries more numismatic and historical importance than any of those coins mentioned above, or any other coin that I have ever handled. It is the 1907 Wire Rim Indian eagle with a plain edge. Only two plain edge specimens were struck, and they were the first Indian eagles ever created, to fulfill the wish of a dying man.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens was near death in the middle of July 1907. Dies for the Indian eagles had already been created, but the collar containing 46 stars was not completed. For that reason, the two plain edge coins were minted, one was sent to President Theodore Roosevelt, and the other was sent to Saint-Gaudens. The sculptor passed away a couple weeks later on August 3.

Roger W. Burdette has traced the issue in his reference Renaissance of American Coinage 1905-1908 (Seneca Mill Press, LLC, 2006), and Michael F. Moran has also examined the issue in his 2008 reference Striking Change — The Great Collaboration of Theodore Roosevelt and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

In a July 28, 2008, P. Scott Rubin writes: “I received an important e-mail from Roger W. Burdette … that this coin was ‘…one of two plain edge pattern pieces struck in July 1907.’ Just as important, he informed me that one of the specimens went to Secretary of the Treasury Cortelyou and the other went to Augustus Saint-Gaudens… I learned that this was the only coin similar to those issued to the public designed by Saint-Gaudens that the artist saw before his death.”

Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Augustus Saint-Gaudens

While we are unable to say with certainty that the present piece was the coin sent to Saint-Gaudens, it almost certainly is. The coin that went to Cortelyou was forwarded to President Roosevelt who returned it to the Mint. In all likelihood, the Cortelyou-Roosevelt coin was melted, as it does not appear among coins at the Smithsonian Institution.

It is thought that President Roosevelt returned the coin he received, and it is also believed that the coin sent to Saint-Gaudens was retained by the artist. It is my belief that the coin I handled is the exact coin that Saint-Gaudens received. Since all other Indian eagles and all double eagles of his design were minted after his death, this single coin seems to be the only coin of his own design that Saint-Gaudens ever saw in person.

This plain edge 1907 Wire Rim Indian eagle was offered for sale as lot 3561 in the Platinum Night session of Heritage’s 2010 ANA auction in Boston.

The price realized was $359,375.00 (includes BP)

Below is the Heritage Auction catelog description of the coin ……….

1907 $10 Wire Rim, Plain Edge, Judd-1902, formerly Judd-1774A, Pollock-1996, R.8, PR62 NGC. It is believed that this specimen is the sole surviving representative of the plain edge 1907 Indian eagle pattern, although a second example may still exist. The plain edge coins were struck from newly created dies, before the segmented collar was finished. In a July 28, 2008, Coin World article, P. Scott Rubin compared this piece to the Ultra High Relief double eagle: “It is so closely related to another pattern that has always been collected with the regular U.S. coinage that it is hard to separate the two. The other coin is the 1907 Ultra High Relief Saint-Gaudens double eagle, or twenty dollar gold piece.”

The offering of this specimen in our January 2003 FUN sale was the first ever appearance of the plain edge pattern. No previous provenance exists for the coin. Roger W. Burdette remarked to Rubin that two plain edge patterns were struck in July 1907, with one sent to Treasury Secretary George B. Cortelyou and forwarded to President Theodore Roosevelt, and the other sent to Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Rubin remarked: “The latter information was startling to me and immediately made the 1907 plain edge eagle one of the most historically important numismatic items in history.”

Although we are unable to say which of the two coins the present specimen is, it is highly likely that this is the exact coin that was sent to Saint-Gaudens. If it is the coin sent to Saint-Gaudens, then it has the special cachet of being the only actual coin of his design that the sculptor personally saw. All other Indian eagles and all of the Saint-Gaudens designed double eagles were struck after the artist died on August 3, 1907. On the other hand, if this is the example sent to Cortelyou and forwarded to Roosevelt, it is also historically important. In Renaissance of American Coinage, 1905-1908, Roger W. Burdette notes: “The experimental plain edge coin sent to the secretary [Cortelyou] was recorded as being returned to the mint on August 20; the Saint-Gaudens piece was still at Aspet.”

The historical numismatic importance of this coin must be emphasized. Augustus Saint-Gaudens died of cancer on August 3, 1907, before any other coins of his designs were minted. Either this piece or the single other plain edge coin is the only example of any of his designs that Augustus Saint-Gaudens saw in person before his untimely death. According to Rubin, “Not only do we have the world-famous artist Saint-Gaudens possessing one of these coins, bet we have the other going to Roosevelt, who had taken such a personal interest in creating an artistic coinage that he was the person who prodded Saint-Gaudens to create the design. So even though we do not know the pedigree of the only known coin struck with a plain edge, we do know that the coin was either at one time in the possession of Saint-Gaudens or Roosevelt. Not a bad pedigree either way!”

After a visit to the Smithsonian Institution in 1905 where he viewed an exhibit of Greek coins, Roosevelt commissioned world-renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign the eagle (ten dollar gold piece) and double eagle (twenty dollar gold piece). For the obverse of the eagle, Saint-Gaudens chose a head of Liberty that he had originally prepared for his Sherman Monument (which one can still see at the southern terminus of New York City’s Central Park). Alice Butler posed as the model for this rendition of Liberty, which Saint-Gaudens based on a Hellenistic wingless Liberty on the temple of Zeus Soter at Pergamon. Although the sculptor originally placed an olive wreath on Liberty’s head, Roosevelt insisted that it be replaced by an Indian feathered war bonnet. The President also switched Saint-Gaudens’ original reverse design for the eagle with that for his double eagle, the former coin now displaying a majestic eagle striding left with a bundle of arrows and an olive branch in its claws. Thirteen stars around the upper obverse periphery, the date below Liberty’s portrait, and the usual statutory inscriptions on the reverse rounded out the design of what would become famous as the Indian eagle. It should be noted that, at this juncture, the design did not include the motto IN GOD WE TRUST because Roosevelt felt the presence of the Deity’s name on coinage was, in the words of Walter Breen (1988), “a debasement amounting to blasphemy.”

The surfaces have a fine-grain sandblast finish and, of course, are textured with a satiny finish. A few shallow luster grazes are faintly evident, but the only mark of any note is in the reverse field below the M in UNUM. The physical appearance of this plain edge piece is different from other Wire Rim Indian eagles. Rubin notes: “the other interesting thing about this coin is the appearance of the coin itself. It is quite different in appearance than all other 1907 Indian Head, Wire Rim eagles. For one thing the coin has a satin surface, not matte or the surface of a normal circulation strike. Secondly, after examining the photos of the only known example … I noticed that the striking is very different than the rare 46 stars on edge variety. Most of the strike looks weaker on the plain edge coin. This is most apparent in the details of the Indian’s headdress on the obverse and the eagle’s feathers on the reverse. Yet, other parts of the strike look sharper on the plain edge issue, such as the Y in LIBERTY and the date”

Burdette has shown through his research that the standard Wire Rim eagles with stars on the edge, as well as the Rolled Rim pieces, were made for collectors on orders from President Roosevelt. That means that the two plain edge coins were not only the first Indian eagles ever minted, but that they are also the only true patterns of this issue, alongside four or five other examples that Burdette describes with “irregular stars” on the edge.

Few coins in American numismatic history are entitled to be called unique. This single 1907 Wire Rim Indian eagle with its plain edge is arguably even more important than the Ultra High Relief double eagles, and it deserves a place of honor in an advanced collection of U.S. coin rarities.
Ex: 2003 FUN Auction (Heritage, 1/2003), lot 8914, where it brought $195,500; Stack’s (7/2008), lot 4241, where it brought $322,000.
From The Jarosi Collection.

Heritage Auctions
Heritage Auctionshttps://www.ha.com/
Heritage Auction Galleries is one of the world's largest collectibles auctioneers. Besides offering rare and valuable U.S. and world coins and currency, Heritage offers ancient coins, exonumia, antiques, comic books, sports memorabilia, and many other collectibles. The firm is based in Dallas, Texas.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I have you beaten 1874 eagle stamped on both side, no coin denomination. A realist knows that gold coins could lead to economical meltdown. That’s why there’s no stated value. I know the unique statement of recognition to

  2. This author has a really low standard of significance and its supposed prominence is exagerated hyperbole. Based upon the descriptions I have read both here and elsewhere, the differences between this pattern and other 1907 $10 proofs are minimal. That St Gaudens handled only this one coin of this denomination is also another trivial fact. So what?

    The supposed prominence of this coin reminds me of its cousin, the 1907 NGC PR-67 “normal edge” with satin finish which is unique and previously sold for $2.185MM. In a prior article on this site, supposedly it is historically significant because the Mint Director at the time owned it at one point, never mind that most collectors have never heard of this individual and the Mint Director position is hardly prominent anyway. I rate this latter coin as one of the three most over rated US classic coins along with the 1861 “Pacquet reverse” DE and the 1920-S NGC MS-67 $10.

    There are many significant coins in the US series. This isn’t one of them.

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