INDIAN HEAD EAGLES
OR INDIAN HEAD GOLD EAGLE (1907-1933)
Head Eagles - Indian
Head Gold Eagle was minted from 1907 to 1933. In
1905 President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Smithsonian
Institution and saw an exhibit of ancient Greek coins.
He admired their high relief and bold designs and prevailed
upon his friend Augustus Saint-Gaudens who was in failing
health to design new gold coinage for the United States.
Saint-Gaudens, who agreed with Roosevelt that the country’s
coinage was hideous, redesigned the eagle and double
eagle coins. Since Saint-Gaudens died in August, 1907,
it is believed that the only new coin he actually saw
was the gold eagle. The high relief of Saint-Gaudens’
Indian Head Eagle was criticized by Mint Engraver
Charles Barber and other Mint workers.
obverse of Saint-Gaudens’
Indian Head Eagle consisted of a close up profile
of a head of Liberty facing left. Above her unrealistic
war bonnet were thirteen stars in an arc. Below the
truncation was the date. The origin of the profile is
Saint-Gaudens’ own statue of Nike which was part
of his memorial to General Sherman and can still be
seen at the southern entrance to Central Park in New
York City. Alice Butler was the model for the sculpture.
Originally Saint-Gaudens wanted to place a wreath on
Liberty’s head, but President Roosevelt insisted
that it be a feathered war bonnet to give the coin a
more nationalistic appeal. (Roosevelt also asked Saint-Gaudens
to switch the designs of the eagle and double eagle
coins. He felt that the close profile was more suited
to an eagle size coin and that the striding figure of
Liberty was better on the double eagle.)
reverse of Saint-Gaudens’
Indian Head Eagle shows a powerful standing eagle
that is suggestive of Egyptian art. It shows the eagle
standing on a bundle of arrows that resemble fasces.
In Roman iconography, fasces symbolized the power to
kill or the power of life and death. Held on top of
the arrows by the eagle’s talon is the olive branch,
the traditional symbol of peace. Above the eagle’s
head is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and in the right field
is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. The denomination TEN DOLLARS
is below. On its edge, the coin has forty-six raised
a deeply religious man, felt that it was blasphemous
to have God’s name on a coin. Coins were used
for gambling, prostitution, hiring assassins, and worse.
So he asked Saint-Gaudens to omit the motto “In
God We Trust.”
first eagles of this design were struck, as were the
ancient coins that Roosevelt admired, in high relief.
They also had a knife rim or wire edge. This rim is
a narrow piece of coin metal outside the border that
is caused by the pressure between the dies and the collar.
Its presence is annoying to those in commerce and banking
because it often prevents the coins from stacking. Also
these rims can cause ejections problems sometimes causing
the new coins get stuck in the coining chamber. For
these and other reasons, Charles Barber opposed the
high relief coins. Despite his objections, a few were
issued in 1907. The next year Barber lowered the relief
when the motto was added.
are two main types of Indian
Head Eagles. The first is the No Motto or Type 1,
which has a few varieties, with and without wire rims
(also called rounded rims), periods before and after
the motto, and a no periods variety. The second type
has the motto IN GOD WE TRUST added to the reverse left
field. The coins of this type were minted mid 1908 to
the end of the series in 1933. Since the change to add
the motto was made in the middle of the year, 1908 had
both the No Motto and Motto on Reverse types. Most likely
the members of Congress who advocated for the addition
of the motto on the coinage were trying to prove that
they were not atheists. Obviously they were not particularly
concerned about maintaining the separation between church
and state. In 1912 two more stars were added to the
rim to reflect the statehood of Arizona and New Mexico.
are a number of rarities in the Saint-Gaudens’
Indian Head Eagle series including the 1907 Wire
Rim and Rounded Rim, the 1920-S, the 1930-S, and the
1933. Because the 1933 piece in unattainable, a complete
date and mintmark set of eagles is 31 coins. Rarities
are the 1907 with periods wire rim and rolled rim varieties,
1911-D, 1920-S, and the 1930-S.
The exact mintage
is unknown due to meltings at the Mint in 1907. The Wire
Rim and Rolled Edge varieties are rare, quasi-pattern
issues. Wire Rim total certified is 492; Rounded or Rolled
Edge total certified 77; finest certified Wire Rim 1 MS69;
finest certified Rolled Edge 6 in MS67. Regular issue
(no periods) common up to MS66; finest certified are 3
in MS68. Only 1 proof Rolled Edge known.
Most seen in
circulated condition; available in grades up to MS62;
exceedingly rare in Gem and above with only 9 coins certified
MS65 to MS66; the finest certified are 5 in MS66 condition;
also seen with double and triple punched mintmark.
Key date; extremely
rare; most appear to have been destroyed before leaving
the Mint; only 37 certified in all grades by both services;
the finest certified is a single MS66 example; this coin
is included in the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins.