Indian Gold $2.50 and $5 doable By
Paul M. Green - Numismatic News February 10, 2009
Head $2.50 and $5 gold pieces are two sets from the period
prior to the Gold Recall Order of 1933 that can be completed.
Apparently people are discovering that fact as well as the
fact that the Indian Head quarter and half eagles are extremely
interesting coins with possibly much more limited supplies
than we think.
The Indian Head quarter and half eagles are
very much a part of the process of coin redesign started by
President Theodore Roosevelt. Their place in that process
is not as well known as the Saint-Gaudens designs for the
eagle and double eagle, but it was every bit as interesting
It would have been possible that Augustus
Saint-Gaudens would have been tabbed to design the quarter
and half eagle at the same time as Roosevelt wanted to change
the designs on all the coins, but Saint-Gaudens, who was clearly
the President's pick as the artist to do all the coins of
the United States, had died during the process of making the
double eagle and eagle. That left Roosevelt with a lot of
ideas and no artist to execute them.
It was about that time that Roosevelt was
approached by old friend William Sturgis Bigelow who had an
idea for coins. It was Bigelow's idea to create new coins
with incuse motifs that would make the field the highest part
of the design. At the time, the idea probably seemed quite
revolutionary although in reality it was not as it had been
used stretching all the way back to ancient times.
The idea was probably music to the ears of
Roosevelt for a number of reasons. It would have seemed new
and interesting and it would also be a way around the problems
Roosevelt had with Chief Engraver Charles Barber. It must
be remembered that the high relief of the Saint-Gaudens double
eagle and eagle had been the source of the battles between
Barber and Roosevelt and if the design of these two additional
denominations was actually below the field, that should avoid
In the mind of Roosevelt where there was
no love lost between himself and Barber, he might have seen
the Bigelow proposal as a way of shutting up Barber. Whatever
the reason, Roosevelt told Bigelow to go ahead with the idea
for the quarter and half eagle.
Bigelow had an idea and approval from the
President, but he had a problem in that he was no artist.
His first project was to find an artist who could do the work
he needed. He turned to a former student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens
who happened to be an active artist and teacher. Bela Lyon
Pratt it turned out had actually been thinking about a similar
approach but had not really followed up on the idea having
no way to gain an audience with the President.
was impressed with what Bigelow had done and wanted to do.
In fact, Bigelow wanted to go even further with what was seemingly
a radical concept than Pratt had imagined. Pratt agreed to
make an attempt to produce the new designs
The Bela Lyon Pratt designs turned out to be
interesting. In the case of the reverse, Pratt really did
nothing original as the reverse of the Indian Head quarter
and half eagles is basically the same as the reverse of the
Saint-Gaudens gold eagle. It shows a standing eagle looking
to the viewer's left with its wings at rest.
We cannot really be sure if Pratt was simply
following the tradition of using the same reverses, which
up until the Saint-Gaudens designs had applied to both the
obverse and reverse of the $2.50, $5, $10 and $20. Certainly
the history of U.S. coin designs suggested that the designs
of all four major gold denominations should be basically the
same or at least similar. Whatever the reason, in the case
of his reverse, Pratt simply adopted the Saint-Gaudens reverse.
The obverse, however, was a very different matter.
The Native American obverse definitely was a departure and
a rather significant one as Pratt used an 'authentic Native
American as his model. A few years later James Earle Fraser
would do the same actually using a number of models for his
Buffalo nickel obverse, but realistically for the first time
Pratt actually produced a Native American design for a coin
that looked like a Native American. That fact alone should
have seen Pratt receive some praise, but as it turned out
he received anything but praise as the critics had a field
day not liking the concept or the design.
Perhaps the leading critic actually came from
the numismatic circles of the day in the form of S.H. Chapman,
who seemed to like absolutely nothing about the whole idea.
The incuse motifs had Chapman all worked up about the possibility
that the coins could trap dirt and germs. He suggested that
the coins had "filth bearing capacities."
It was not just the coin and its potential to
produce disease that seemed to concern Chapman as he also
did not like the Native American obverse. In fact he was concerned
about the health of the model, suggesting, "His shrunken
mouth and nostrils indicate a man below par in his physical
In the end Bigelow responded that the model
was in excellent health but that was not enough for Chapman
who eventually simply called the coins "utterly miserable"
and a "hideous production."
The design once put into production was protected
by the law for 25 years unless Congress moved to change it
so Chapman was simply out of luck in terms of making changes.
Ironically, there was a valid concern with the
design and it is apparently one Chapman had missed despite
the fact that he had a numismatic background. The incuse motifs
by making the field the highest part of the design opened
the coin up to problems in that stacked one.on top of another
as was done in stores and banks, the field would potentially
have friction causing small marks in the field. That problem
is very evident when you attempt to find examples today in
There are really very few coins in U.S. history
where an aspect of their design makes such a difference in
terms of the availability of coins today, but it is very clear
that the Indian Head quarter and half eagles while available
in lower Mint State grades are close to impossible in grades
like MS-65 and up.
The summary of PCGS coins graded in the case
of the Indian Head quarter eagle shows 67,137 coins graded
of all dates combined but only 2,054 were called MS-65 and
just 196 were better with only two coins in MS-67 being the
best. It is worth remembering that the grading services tend
to see the best coins and such numbers for a coin of the past
century are extremely unusual. In fact, it is unusual for
a coin of almost any period of time to have a mere two examples
out of 67,137 graded reach MS-67.
The situation with the Indian Head half | eagle
is even worse as might be expected as the half eagle was heavier
than the quarter eagle and consequently the added weight on
the field when stacking would potentially cause even more
problems. At PCGS they have seen 54,756 Indian Head half eagles
and of that total only 507 made MS-65 and just 60 topped MS-65,
and again like the quarter eagle, MS-67 was the top grade.
Were it a Bust quarter or some earlier issue,
the totals might not be surprising but as a coin produced
only in the 1900s the totals are very unusual.
Under the circumstances, there is little hope
to assemble a set in MS-65, but a set in MS-60 or in circulated
grades is a very different matter for collectors. The Indian
Head quarter eagle presently shows almost every date in VF-20
The fact that virtually every date is at the
same price tends to suggest a lack of demand. Not counting
the low mintage 1911-D, the mintages ranged from 240,117 to
704,191 and those totals do not suggest that every date should
be equally available.
In fairness there was the Gold Recall Order
of 1933 and that resulted in the melting of many Indian Head
quarter eagles, but that melting should not have produced
a situation where all dates are essentially equally available
yet that is the way they are priced.
The one exception to the similar circulated pricing is the
historic key of the Indian Head quarter eagles, the 1911-D.
1911-D had a mintage of just 55,680 at a time when there were
certainly not many people collecting quarter eagles and probably
even fewer collecting them by date and mintmark. This makes
it unlikely that many examples were saved and also unlikely
that there would have been many new collectors in the years
that followed to even pull an example out of circulation,
hi fact, in the few hoards we have found assembled in the
period prior to 1933 and the Gold Recall Order, there is also
little evidence of the 1911-D suggesting that it was not circulating
in any numbers, or if so, was simply not saved.
What we know today is that the 1911-D is
tough, listing for $2,500 in VF-20 and that price is up from
just $700 in 2004. In MS-60 the 1911-D lists for $9,850 and
that too is much higher than in 2004 when it was just $3,100.
In MS-65 the 1911-D is currently $90,000,
an increase from $80,000. By comparison, an available date
is $275 in MS-60 and $7,000 in MS-65 and that MS-65 shows
that some collectors have discovered how tough the Indian
Head quarter eagle is in MS-65 as it is up from $4,200 in
There are a couple other premium dates in
MS-65, such as the 1914 and 1914-D, which are priced at $34,000
and $40,000, respectively, and they too are up in price from
2004 when they were $16,500 and $23,000, respectively. In
fact, they like the 1911-D, are in short supply.
We see the situation with the 1911-D where
NGC has graded 25 examples in MS-65 while PCGS has graded
13. In fact, the total of 38 is high for a com priced at $90,000,
although the demand is what probably keeps prices high and
rising as the 1911-D has a reputation as the key to Indian
Head quarter eagles and when a coin is clearly identified
as a key date that can frequently produce added demand even
if primarily from dealers who will buy it figuring as a key
date it is not likely to remain in inventory very long.
The 1911-D has another feature that can influence
its price and that is that its mintmark is notorious for not
being clear. The mintmark was punched into the die, making
it a high point in the design and it too was subject to unusual
wear simply by stacking and that usually meant the "D"
would turn into a blur. That means that an example with a
clear "D" is likely to com¬mand a premium price
There is no dispute that the Indian Head
half eagle is a tougher collection to complete. You start
with basic VF-20 prices of $280, while an MS-60 of an available
date is $525 with the least expensive MS-65 at $21,500. Once
again those prices are up, with the MS-65 price of an available
date having increased from $12,500 to $21,500 since 2004.
Moreover, you will find rela¬tively few dates at the $21,500
level as there are simply very few top grade Indian Head half
One date that is available is the Indian
Head half eagle equivalent of the 1911-D. It is the 1929.
The 1929 is simply a case of a date not being released in
large numbers into circulation and consequently being melted
in large numbers after the Gold Recall Order of 1933 was issued
as the vast majority of its mintage was simply sitting in
Treasury vaults when the order came to melt the gold coins
in the government's possession.
Of its ample mintage of 662,000, it is estimated
that there are perhaps just 200 examples of the 1929 known
to exist today. That results in a price of $7,500 in VF-20
which is up from $2,400 a year ago while an MS-60 is $14,500,
which is $8,000 more than 2004 with an MS-65 listed at $50,000.
The prices are supported by the grading service totals that
show that NGC has graded 21 examples of which a stunning 20
were the same MS-62 grade.
In the case of PCGS there have been 266 graded,
with roughly 10 percent, or 24 to be precise, were called
circulated with the rest primarily falling between MS-63 and
MS-64. Only eight were called MS-65. The totals point to the
possibility that the 1929 was not released into circulation
in any numbers as you do not normally find coins where the
majority are MS-63 to MS-64 unless there are some unusual
factors at work and that unusual factor in the case of the
1929 Indian Head half eagle is simply that they were not released
Unlike the Indian Head quarter eagle, there
are other tough Indian Head half eagle dates. At the top of
the list is the 1909-O, which had a mintage of just 34,200.
This was well below the total for the 1911-D quarter eagle.
The 1909-O was not saved and once again based on the couple
hoards from the period it seemingly was not in circulation
in any numbers. That results in prices today of $2,150 in
VF-20, which is up strongly from an earlier price of $650
in 2004, while an MS-60 is $27,500, up from $10,000 in 2004
and an MS-65 is a real rarity at $475,000 up some $285,000
in the past few years. Is that as far as it can go? Perhaps
not. It could go up more as the 1909-O has been seen in MS-65
just once at both PCGS and NGC and it is even tough in Mint
State where PCGS reports only 60 examples out of 389 graded.
There are other tough dates as well. The
1914-S and 1915-S are now at $105,000 and $ 110,000, respectively,
while the 1911 -D has jumped from $120,000 to $255,000 since
2004 in part because people have realized the grading services
combined report only three coins in that grade.
The 1913-S is also in the $100,000 or more
group at a current listing of $125,000 despite the fact that
it is not that tough in circulated grades with just a $320
listing in VF-20 and a $1,450 price in MS-60, but here too
the sky is virtually the limit in MS-65 as the grading services
have combined to see just four coins in MS-65.
When markets are hot, the grade rarities
shoot up. Bragging rights about owning the best known example
are apparently expensive when times are good.
It would be fair to suggest that there are
really no generally available Indian Head half eagles in MS-65.
A relatively available date based on price like the 1914-D
is currently at $21,500 has appeared in MS-65 just six times
at NGC and a dozen at PCGS. These numbers are far lower than
those for the 1911-D quarter eagle and that suggests just
how much potential even a lower priced date might have if
additional demand surfaces.
Certainly you cannot approach an Indian Head
quarter or half eagle collection in MS-65 with the expectation
that you will be able to complete it. This is especially the
case for the half eagle.
In lower Mint State grades or in circulated
condition, it is a different story as the Indian Head quarter
and half eagles together form one of the very few collections
of gold coins from prior to the Gold Recall Order of 1933
where many collections can actually look forward to completing
the set if they give it a little time. This doesn't mean all
of the pieces are easily affordable. We have seen that they
are not However, none of the pieces in either set is impossible.
Does that qualified endorsement make you
want to give up your Lincoln cent collection and jump into
gold coin collecting?
For sure some collectors will make the switch. To be active
in the hobby means setting goals and meeting new challenges.
Collecting the Indian Head $2.50 and $5 coins are not bad
Remember too that these coins are made of
a precious metal whose value has been rising over time. Sometimes
there are reversals or pauses, but there is no reason to believe
that the prices will not be higher in 20, 30 or 40 years.