Last week we featured some of the rare Indian head historical coins that are must have for any numismatics collector. Because of how rich the history of these coins are, we had to split up our guide into two parts. So without further ado, here is part two of our Indian Head coin guide.
1908-1929 Indian Head Half and Quarter Eagles
It is often said that the Saint Gauden’s Double Eagle is the single most beautiful coin in American numismatic history. I would like to debate that point however, because there are two coins from the same period that are much more innovative and were very risky. These two coins are the Indian Head half eagle and quarter eagle. At the time, the previous eagle series had all been around without a design change for over 50 years. It wasn’t until Theodore Roosevelt assumed office that the groundwork for the coins’ change would be laid. It was Teddy who arranged for Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign the famous double eagle and eagle (featured below). After these coins were received with rave reviews, President Roosevelt gave his blessing for the next two to be issued. These two coins stand out from the rest of US coinage because their relief is incuse instead of being raised. The quarter eagle was minted annually, until 1915 and then didn’t begin again until 1925, making the quarter eagle one of the smallest minted series in US history. This makes collecting a complete set attainable despite the current cost of gold. The only real rarity in the series is the 1911-D with only 55,680 minted. While the half eagle was minted annually until 1916 and wouldn’t resume production until 1929 right before the crash. The 1929 half eagle is the most sought after coin in this series as it appears only a handful escaped the smelter.
1907-33 Indian Head Eagle
The history behind this coin starts when Theodore Roosevelt was elected President in 1904. Unhappy with the inaugural medal designed by US Mint engravers Barber and Morgan, he commissioned Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create a new medal. The medal gained widespread fame for its beauty and in turn Roosevelt commissioned Saint-Gaudens to begin redesigning the nations coinage, much to Chief Engraver Barber’s chagrin. The final design that ended up on the gold 10 dollar coin was originally meant for the Double Eagle but was decided for the Eagle instead. After much trial and error with the striking of the coin, and under great pressure to get the new coin into circulation after the first batch was melted down, some of the design elements of the coin were removed for striking purposes. An interesting fact about this coin, early mintages of this coin do not feature the “IN GOD WE TRUST” motto as Roosevelt felt that it would be blasphemous to put the deity’s name on a coin that may be used for immoral purposes. However, the coins without the motto might be rare, but the rarest pieces of this series come in the later years after the great gold recall by another Roosevelt in 1933. The 1920-S, 1930-S, and 1933 coins were almost melted in entirety. Making these three mint dates the rarest of the series.
1913-1938 Buffalo Nickel
Our final coin in our two part series is the Buffalo Nickel. This famous nickel came from a Roosevelt appointed Secretary of the Treasury and is inspired partially from Saint-Gaudens’ designs. The Buffalo Nickel was designed by James Earle Fraser, a former assistant of Saint-Gaudens and a very prolific artist who was best known for his “End of the Trail” sculpture. Up until this point, most of the “Indian” coins featured caucasians wearing an Indian headress. Fraser’s design accurately portrayed Indians as they look. The profile portrait on the obverse of the coin was a composite of three chiefs who had posed for Fraser. Wanting to keep the distinct American theme, he depicted the Buffalo on the reverse. Over 1.2 billion Buffalo Nickels were minted from 1913 to 1938. This series has an array of scarce dates and rarities. The most difficult coin to obtain is the 1918/17-D overdate. Additionally, another rare series is the coins minted from the San Francisco Mint from 1913-1928.
Well I hope you enjoyed our two part piece on the Indian Head coins as much as I enjoyed writing about it. This period is rich with beautiful artistry on our coins, and showcases a time when we were daring with the designs on our money. I hope this guide provides a helpful look into these coins along with a glimpse of their history.
Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.