Eagles - Pratt’s
Indian Head Half Eagles - In 1908
the new Indian Head Half Eagles were produced. Designed
by Bela Lyon Pratt, the new Indian
Head Half Eagles had two very different innovations related
to its design. One was the realism used in the portrait of
the Indian brave on the obverse, and the other was the use
of incuse design details. President Theodore Roosevelt, influenced
by his friend, Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow, wanted the coinage
of the country redesigned. His “pet crime” was
to bypass the mediocre Charles Barber, the Mint Engraver.
Roosevelt, who was now in his second term of office, wanted
to reform the coinage of the United States, which he felt
was “atrociously hideous”. He wanted the Indian
Head half eagle to use an American Indian as an emblem of
liberty and to use the incuse design of the ancients.
The obverse of the Indian
Head Half Eagle shows a profile view of an authentic looking
brave facing left. He is wearing a full headdress. Above him
is LIBERTY and below is the date. Six five-pointed stars are
on the left and seven are on the right. The reverse of the
Indian Head half eagle shows a standing eagle, reminiscent
of the reverse of Saint-Gaudens’ eagle coin. Pratt fit
the four inscriptions on the reverse without it seeming overcrowded.
E PLURIBUS UNUM is in the left field, and IN GOD WE TRUST
is in the right. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, the words separated
by dots is above, and FIVE DOLLARS is below. The eagle stands
on a bundle of arrows that resembles the Roman fasces, symbol
of the power to kill, and holds an olive branch, symbol of
The use of realism in the
obverse portrait was innovative because prior designed Indian
head motifs used stylized busts and fanciful war bonnets.
Although the name and tribe of Pratt’s Indian brave
are unknown, he is clearly authentic looking. Pratt’s
use of this figure is seen as an extension of a trend started
in 1899 with the portrait of “Running Antelope”
on the five dollar silver certificate.
The incuse design of the coin
was also an innovation for United States coinage. No regularly
circulating coin ever made use of this process before. It
was criticized by numismatists and people in banking and commerce.
They felt that the coins would not stack, could be easily
counterfeited, and were unsanitary because dirt would get
into the incused features. However, despite this opposition,
the public was indifferent, and the coins remained in production
and circulation until 1929, when the Great Depression caused
general economic upheaval.
Bela Lyon Pratt was a former
student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, hence, the reverse of the
coin in homage to him. Pratt studied sculpture in Paris at
the Ecole des Beau Arts. When he returned to the United States,
he became an instructor at the Boston Museum School. Pratt
was considered a prominent sculptor and medal maker. One of
his works was a medal he made for the bicentennial of Yale
University. Another was a medal for the President of Harvard
University. In addition to medals, he also made busts and
other sculptures. In 1915 he won a gold medal for an exhibit
of seventeen pieces at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in California.
The coin was minted from 1908
to 1916 and then again in 1929. There are twenty-four different
combinations of dates and mintmarks. In 1909 four mints made
Indian Head half eagle coins. They were Philadelphia, Denver,
New Orleans, and San Francisco. In 1916, coins were made only
in San Francisco, and in 1929 they were made only in Philadelphia.
The highest mintage was in 1909-D with 3,423,560, and the
lowest was 1909-O with 34,200. The key coin in the series
is the 1909-O. Authentication is highly recommended for the
1909-O because of a number of counterfeits that was made by
adding a mintmark to a Philadelphia issue. (All USRCI coins
are guaranteed genuine and are authenticated by one of the
major grading services.) A semi-key date is the 1911-D. It
had an original mintage of 72,500.
Common date in Gem condition; usually lustrous; rare
above MS66 with only 8 certified by both services, the
highest of which is a single MS69 example. Proofs have
dark, matte surfaces that were unpopular with collectors.
The finest certified is a single PF68. 1908
$5 Indian NGC PF67
date in most Mint State grades; rare above Gem; the
finest certified are 13 in MS66. Proofs used lighter
gold Roman finish; only 41 to 49 are known to exist
today. A single matte proof was also struck.
found with weakness on headdress feathers and average
luster; usually yellow gold with a hint of green; scarce
in Gem condition; finest certified are 3 in MS66. Proofs
of this year used a fine sandblast finish. Only 71 to
89 are known to exist. 1912
$5 Indian NGC PF66
found with granular surfaces and strong luster; scarce
in Gem condition; the finest certified are 2 in MS66
condition. Proofs used the fine sandblast finish that
was made slightly coarser. Only 61 to 74 are known to
well struck and lustrous; Scarce in Gem condition with
none certified higher than MS65. Pieces dated 1915-D
are counterfeit. Proofs used the fine sandblast finish
that was made slightly coarser. Only 41 to 49 are known
to exist. 1915
$5 Indian NGC MS65