ANA World's Fair of Money

HomeUS CoinsIndian Head Half Eagle, 1908-1929 | CoinWeek

Indian Head Half Eagle, 1908-1929 | CoinWeek

1908 Indian Head Half Eagle. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1908 Indian Head Half Eagle. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

The opening decades of the 20th century were a time of great creativity and experimentation in the design of U.S. coinage.

August Saint-Gaudens’ eponymous Double Eagle was introduced in 1907, along with his Indian Head Eagle. In 1909, Victor David Brenner’s Lincoln Wheat Cent, commemorating the centennial of the president’s birth, featured the first use of a presidential portrait on a circulating coin. A few years later, James Earl Fraser’s Buffalo Nickel was introduced, followed in 1916 by Adolf A. Weinman’s Winged Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty Half Dollar and Hermon A. MacNeil’s Standing Liberty Quarter.

In the same period, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition produced several silver and gold commemoratives, including the Charles E. Barber/George T. Morgan allegorical quarter eagle (one of Barber’s most creative works), and Robert Aitken’s equally symbolic round and octagonal $50 gold pieces.

Following the acclaim received for Saint-Gaudens’ stunning efforts on the $10 and $20 gold pieces, President Theodore Roosevelt turned his attention to the other two gold denominations: the quarter eagle and the half eagle (production of one dollar and three dollar gold coins ended in 1889).

The Liberty Head Half Eagle had been minted since 1839 and President Roosevelt had wanted Saint-Gaudens to redesign the entirety of the U.S. coin series. Unfortunately, the famed sculptor was stricken with cancer and could not complete the project. Saint-Gaudens died on August 3, 1907, and did not live long enough to see the circulating versions of his eagle and double eagle.

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 President Roosevelt, Bigelow promoted the idea of using a sunken design on American coins, and Roosevelt agreed. It was through Bigelow that sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt was brought in to create the designs of the Indian Head Quarter Eagle and Indian Head Half Eagle.

Pratt used the same portrait on both denominations. It was a realistic image of a Native American chief. For the reverses, Pratt adapted Saint-Gaudens’ standing bald eagle. Saint-Gaudens originally used the design on the reverse of Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural medal and later adapted it for the reverse of the Indian Head Eagle.

Not everyone approved of the designs, however.

Philadelphia coin dealer Samuel H. Chapman was one of the most vigorous in opposition, fearing that the recessed areas would collect dirt and spread disease. Others found fault with both the portrait and the eagle, though United States Mint Chief 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 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 Half Eagle was minted yearly through 1916, after which production ceased. The type was struck again in 1929, after which production was permanently ended. Though the mintage of Indian Head Half Eagles in 1929 was generous, apparently most of that year’s coins were held by the Treasury and later melted following President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 6102 of April 5, 1933, which effectively ended the legal tender status and circulation of gold coins in this country.

How Much Are Indian Head Half Eagles Worth?

Approximately 300,000 business strike Indian Half Eagles have been certified by CAC, NGC, and PCGS, with the most commonly certified issue being the 1909-D Indian Head Half Eagle, with nearly 80,000 coins graded.

Prices are modest for most dates through the Uncirculated grade of MS62. The nature of the coin’s incuse design provides little concealment for incidental scratches and marks, which reduces the number of coins that qualify for high grades. As a result, Gem coins are scarce and Superb Gem coins are rare… and priced accordingly.

Several hundred Indian Head Half Eagles in Proof have been certified, generally fewer than 100 coins annually. All Proofs are expensive, increasing to very expensive finer than PR63, and prohibitively expensive for most collectors finer than PR65.

Design

1929 Indian Head Half Eagle.
1929 Indian Head Half Eagle.

Extended Coverage on CoinWeek

Extraordinary Midwestern Family Collection of Indian Head Half Eagles ($5 gold coins)

CoinWeek contributor and rare coin auction analyst Greg Reynolds has written about both the high-end and low-budget sides of the market for this coin series.

Design

Obverse:

The obverse is dominated by a left-facing somewhat determined portrait of a Native American chief wearing a full-feathered war bonnet. LIBERTY is at the top and the date is 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.

Reverse:

The reverse displays a standing eagle facing to the left, perched upon a bundle of arrows with an entwined olive branch. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, the words separated by centered dots, is at the top, and the denomination FIVE DOLLARS is at the bottom. The motto 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 and recessed below the field.

Edge:

The edge of the Indian Head Half Eagle of Bela Lyon Pratt is reeded.

Varieties

Very few varieties are known, including Weak S mintmarks on the New Orleans and most San Francisco issues.

Coin Specifications

Indian Head Half Eagle
Years of Issue: 1908-29
Mintage (Circulation): High: 3,423,560 (1909-D); Low: 34,200 (1909-O)
Mintage (Proof): High: 250 (1910); Low: 75 (1915)
Alloy: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 8.36 g
Diameter: 21.60 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt
REV Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt

 

* * *

Additional Resources

Akers, David and Jeff Ambio. A Handbook of 20th Century United States Gold Coins 1907-1933. Zyrus Press.

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Garrett, Jeff and Ron Guth. Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins 1795-1933. Whitman Publishing.

-. A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.

Schein, Allan. The Gold Indians of Bela Lyon Pratt. Self Published.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S. and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

* * *

CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Park Avenue Numismatics Gold and Silver Bullion

AU Capital Management US gold Coins

David Lawrence Rare Coins Auctions