(for Denver, CO) left of the arrowheads on the reverse
The 1911-D Indian Quarter Eagle is
a key date coin in the Indian Head Quarter Eagle series.
Its low mintage and unusual design have made it desirable
to collectors, investors, and specialists. It is the
one coin that a person who wishes to complete a set
of Indian Head Quarter Eagle coins must have.
The Native American motif of the obverse
Indian Head Quarter Eagle, designed by Bela Lyon Pratt,
a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, is a departure
from the traditional stylized female Caucasian Liberty
seen on coins of the past including on the eagle designed
by Saint-Gaudens. Although the identity and tribe
of the realistic brave are unknown, his use as a symbol
of Liberty can be seen as a continuation of a tendency
started with the portrait of “Running Antelope”
on the five dollar bill of 1899. From the modern perspective
there is irony in the use of a Native American image
as a symbol that is emblematic of liberty considering
the treatment they received at the hands of the white
man. The portrait shows a profile of the Native American
brave facing left.
is wearing a full headdress. Above his head is LIBERTY,
and the date is below. Six five-pointed stars are
to the left and seven are to the right. As designer,
Bela Lyon Pratt placed his initials directly below
the bust. Considering how the public objected to the
placement of Victor David Brenner’s initials
on the reverse of the Lincoln Cent only one year later
(the first date of the Indian Head Quarter Eagle series
is 1908), it is interesting to note that the prominent
placement of Pratt’s initials seemed to cause
no outcry. Perhaps most people did not get to see
the new gold coins compared to the numbers of those
who saw the new cent. No doubt Charles Barber and
the rest of the Mint engraving staff disapproved of
the placement of these initials; however, Bela Lyon
Pratt prevailed and his initials remained in place
for the life of the series.
The reverse is a tribute
to Augusts Saint-Gaudens, the recently deceased designer
of the new gold eagle and double eagle. Bela Lyon
Pratt, the designer of the Indian Head Quarter Eagle
and half eagle was a student of Saint-Gaudens, his
friend, and assistant. Bela Lyon Pratt adapted the
reverse of the eagle of Saint-Gaudens for the Indian
Head Quarter Eagle and the half eagle. In fact, unlike
the Saint-Gaudens’ works, Pratt’s quarter
eagle and half eagle have identical portraits except
for the size. The standing eagle reminds one of late
Egyptian sculpture. It was taken from Roosevelt’s
unofficial inaugural medal of 1905 that was designed
by Saint-Gaudens and engraved by Adolph Weinman, designer
of the Walking Liberty half dollar. The eagle stands
erect on a bundle of arrows similar to fasces, the
Roman symbol for the power of life and death, with
an olive branch in its talon as it faces left. Thus
the symbols of preparedness for battle and peace are
entwined. Above its head is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
separated with dots. Below is the denomination 2 ½
DOLLARS. To the left is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM,
and IN GOD WE TRUST is to the right.
In ancient times incuse
coinage was struck, but it had never before been made
for circulating United States coins. Suggested by
Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow a Boston doctor and collector
of Japanese art who was a friend of President Theodore
Roosevelt, the design and new relief immediately made
the coins in this series (and the half eagle series)
very different from those that preceded them. The
devices on the coin are sunk below the fields so the
high points are protected. However, since there are
no raised rims to protect them, the fields are highly
susceptible to wear. The mintmark is the only element
of the coin to be higher than the field, which makes
it totally vulnerable to wear. This new concept immediately
came under attack when the coins were released because
they allegedly were easily counterfeited, could not
be stacked, and were unhygienic.
Roosevelt did not particularly praise the new design,
a noted numismatist from Philadelphia, Samuel H. Chapman
objected vociferously in a letter to President Roosevelt
reprinted in the February 1909 issue of The Numismatist.
Chapman’s concerns are excerpted and expressed
head of the Indian is without artistic merit, and
portrays an Indian who is emaciated, totally unlike
the big, strong Indian chiefs as seen in real life....
and on the reverse is a reproduction of the Saint-Gaudens'
eagle, which represents not our national bird…
but resembles more closely the golden eagle, which
is also indigenous to Europe.
of the design below the surface of the flan, with
deeply incised outlines, gives the effect of having
been engraved into the metal, and can, therefore,
be closely imitated … without dies or moulds….
design, especially the deeply sunken portion of the
neck of the Indian, will be a great receptacle for
dirt and conveyor of disease, and the coin will be
the most unhygienic ever issued…
And the new
coins, being thinner, as the metal is taken up by
the full field, they do not make stacks equal in height
to the old…These coins will be a disgrace to
However, despite these
objections, and the indifference of the general public,
the coins remained in production until 1929. Since
few were interested in saving coins of this new Mint
series, not many examples survive in higher grades
today. This is especially true for the key coin, the
The coins in this series
have a knife or wire rim. It is a thin raised extension
of the edge of the coin at the outer rim. Metal was
forced between the close collar and the die. Mint
personnel call the rim a fin. They object to it when
its presence on a coin creates ejection problems after
the coin is struck.
Since a number of counterfeits
have surfaced, authentication of this key date is
essential. The counterfeits are often genuine 1911
pieces that have had a D mintmark added. Genuine pieces
have partial wire rims that are easily observable
in higher grades and uniform edge reeding made of
parallel bars and grooves that extend for the entire
thickness of the coin.
Grading is difficult
because patterns of normal wear are different from
regularly struck coins. Nicks and marks on the surface
tend to be emphasized because of the incuse design.
Areas particularly susceptible to abrasion or wear
are the cheekbone, headdress feathers on the obverse
and the eagle’s left wing.
Bela Lyon Pratt, born
in 1867 in Norwich Connecticut, was an art educator,
sculptor, and medalist. After graduating from the
Yale School of Fine Arts at the age of sixteen, he
joined the Art Students League of New York where he
took classes with, among others, Augustus Saint-Gaudens,
who became his mentor. Pratt then traveled to Europe
where he studied sculpture. He finished first in his
class at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1892.
When he returned to the United States he worked with
August Saint-Gaudens and created two large sculpture
groups for the Columbian Exposition in 1893. From
then until his death in 1917 he was a Professor of
Sculpture at the Boston Museum School of Fine Art.
In addition to the coinage designs of 1908, Pratt
had many commissions for medallions and medals. In
1909 Pratt did his most medal work; however, most
of his 180 works were portrait reliefs and busts.
He also did decorative architectural sculpture for
buildings such as the Liberal Arts Building, the Buffalo
Exposition, and the Library of Congress. He was a
member of the National Sculpture Society, the National
Academy of Design, the Architectural League, and he
was founder of the Guild of Boston Artists.
Minted continuously from
1908 to 1915 and then from 1925 to 1929, the business
strike mintage for the Indian Head Quarter Eagle series
was 7,250,261. Ending in 1929, it was one of the victims
of the Wall Street crash that began the Great Depression.
During the 1930’s any gold that came into the
Mint was used to produce double eagles. In 1934 the
production of gold coinage ceased and all gold in
circulation was recalled.
Only three dates were
made in the Denver Mint, 1911, 1914, and 1925, which
is a branch mint only date. The Indian Head Quarter
Eagle of Bela Lyon Pratt is one of the smallest series
of United States coins. The complete set is attainable
for many because there is only the one key, 1911-D
with its lowest mintage of 55,680. The next smallest
mintage is 240,000 in 1914. Since the 1911-D is necessary
to complete a date and mintmark set, it is eagerly
sought by collectors, specialists, and investors.