INDIAN HEAD FIVE DOLLARS OR HALF EAGLE (1908-1929)
1913-S Indian Head
Few coins have as much beauty,
intricacy of design and appeal as the Indian Half Eagle. A
proud native American chieftain, the model unnamed and his
tribe unknown, dominates the obverse of the Half Eagle; on
the reverse, an American eagle rests atop a bundle of arrows
and an olive branch, symbols of war and peace. When the coin
was first circulated, it caused a great deal of controversy.
The main concern was that the recessed devices housed disease-carrying
bacteria. Thus the public was understandably reluctant to
preserve even uncirculated specimens for generations to follow.
Furthermore, because Pratt did not choose to use rims to protect
the surface of the coin, uncirculated examples are scarce
and superb gems are virtually unheard of.
Considering the date and mint, the 1913-S Indian
Head half eagle is frequently found with an average or worse
strike, often with peripheral weakness. The mintmark is normally
encountered quite mushy and lacking any central definition.
A rare exception can be found with sharpness and luster throughout.
In gem MS-65 or finer grades, this date is one of the most
difficult to secure, with a mere five coins graded as such
currently by services, placing this date as the sixth most
difficult coin of the series to locate in higher grades.
(for San Francisco) left of the arrowheads on the
PRATT'S INDIAN HEAD DESIGN
One of the fulfillments of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt's
"pet crime" plan-improving coinage designs,
bypassing the stupefying mediocrity of Mint Engraver
Barber-was issue of gold coins in the new design by
Bela Lyon Pratt. The story behind this design is in
Chap. 33, Sect, viii, introductory text. To this same
"pet crime" project we owe the magnificent
St. Gaudens eagles and double eagles, and ultimately
also the Lincoln cent and buffalo nickel, undisputedly
making this period the zenith of American coinage
art, at least for sheer numbers of excellent designs
introduced to circulation. (Barber got his revenge
by watering down the designs.)
Nevertheless, hardly were the first
Pratt half eagles out of the Mint before traditionalists
began attacking the design on flimsy grounds. Earlier
I cited S. Hudson Chapman's objections. A more serious
criticism which could have been raised is that Barber
ordered mintmarks to be placed just 1. of arrowheads,
failing to notice that the O, S, or D will be weakly
struck and wear down in that location more quickly
than any other detail.
As a result, some of the rarer dates like 1908 S and
1909 O come so weak that mintmarks are difficult to
read with certainty, and occasionally the ungodly
either affix an O to a genuine Philadelphia coin or
alter 1909 D to simulate the rarer mint-mark.
A consequence of a different
kind is the 1916 without mint-mark S. Though the Philadelphia
Mint issued no half eagles in 1916, at least two survivors
lack the mintmark. These are generally thought to
be 1916 S's weakly struck so that S does not show.
The only one I have examined is strong enough to make
that conclusion dubious. Alternative possibilities
include foreign matter in the die clogging the mintmark,
PRATT'S INDIAN HEAD
Designer, Bela Lyon Pratt. Engraver, Charles E. Barber,
after Pratt. Mints, Philadelphia (no mintmark), New
Orleans (mintmark O), San Francisco (S), Denver (D).
Mintmarks 1. of arrowheads. Physical Specifications,
Authorizing Acts, as before.
Grade range, VERY GOOD to UNC.; not collected below
VERY FINE. FINE: Knot of hair cord visible; partial
feather contours both sides; full date, letters, and
stars, but no central details. VERY FINE: Over half
headband details; hair-cord knot clear; partial internal
details to Indian's feathers; partial details on breast
and leg feathers, over half wing-feather details.
EXTREMELY FINE: Isolated tiny rubbed spots only; partial
mint luster. UNCIRCULATED: No trace of wear; look
on cheekbone, headdress below BE, and shoulder of
wing (below back of eagle's neck). NOTE: Mintmarked
coins are often weak in centers and at mintmarks.