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Indian Head Quarter Eagle

1911-D Indian Head Quarter Eagle

1911-D Indian Head $2.5
PCGS No: 7943, 7954
Mintage: 55,680
Proofs:  
Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt
Diameter: 17/24" or 18mm
Metal content: 90% gold / 10% silver
Weight: ±64.5 grains (±4.18 grams)
Edge: Reeded
Mintmark: "D" (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.

1911-D Quater EagleHe 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.

1911-D Indian Head Quarter EagleWhile 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 as follows:

”...The 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.

The Placing 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….

The sunken 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 our country….”

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 1911-D.

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.



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