Eagles – Indian Head Eagle, No Motto, 1907-1908
In 1907 a collaboration between the dynamic president Theodore Roosevelt and renown American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens resulted in the replacement of the previous Liberty Head design on the ten dollar gold coin. The new design featured a native American on the obverse, and a standing eagle on the reverse. The Indian was modeled after the figure of Nike (representing Victory) that was part of the Saint-Gauden’s equestrian Sherman Monument located at the entrance to New York’s Central Park, and the reverse was a representation of America’s symbol, the bald eagle. While the sculptural effects of the original designs are admired (most noticeable on the Wire Rim and Rounded Rim pieces initially produced), the representation of Liberty adorned by a ceremonial headdress not worn by female native American was incongruous; and the eagle, though dramatically posed, has longer legs and other differences from an actual bald eagle. Artistic license aside, a more serious issue for the Mint was the reality that the raised edge of the first Indian Head coins (Wire Rim – Mintage 500) would not stack, a problem for commerce, and the modified rounded rim (Rolled Rim – Mintage 42) pieces apparently would not strike with satisfactory quality.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
It was left to the often maligned Chief Engraver Charles Barber to make additional changes (he had changed the raised rim to the rounded rim) so that the Indian Head eagle could be produced efficiently and in sufficient quantities for commerce; or as one scholar described it, “turning unusable designs into something practical.” Barber’s efforts are often criticized, but the changes were successful in terms of production, and hundreds of thousands of the eagles were minted in 1907 and 1908. The type is today considered one of the most popular U.S. coin series, and is defined not only by Barber’s changes to the designs but by the omission of IN GOD WE TRUST (the early Wire Rim and Rounded Rim pieces also did not have the motto). That phrase appeared on the previous Liberty Head eagles, and was in fact mandated by the Act of March 3, 1865, but was left off by Saint-Gaudens. Many commentators attribute that omission to the sheer willpower of Teddy Roosevelt, who apparently believed that placing religious sentiment on circulating coinage was a form of blasphemy: the same coin that showed up in this week’s offering plate might be on the gambling table next week. Congress disagreed however, likely encouraged by strong public opinion, and the motto was added to reverse for issues produced later in 1908.
Liberty faces left on the obverse, wearing a many-feathered bonnet which displays LIBERTY across the front. Strands of flowing hair appear below the headdress at the forehead and across the side to the back. Thirteen six-point stars form an arc inside the raised rim above though slightly touching the feathers of the headdress. The date is centered at the bottom, crowding both the portrait and the rim. On the reverse a majestic eagle faces left and rests on a bundle of arrows with an olive branch intertwined. Inside the raised rim is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA at the top and TEN DOLLARS a the bottom, the words of both legends separated by centered, somewhat triangular dots. At the upper right, above but touching the eagle and below OF AMERICA is E PLURIBUS UNUM, each word on a separate line with no enclosing dots as on the wire and rounded rim pieces. The edge has 46 raised stars. No Motto Indian Head eagles were minted at Philadelphia and Denver; the D mintmark is to the lower left above the tip of the olive branch, with the bottom edge ‘parallel’ to the curved rim.
A few thousand No Motto Indian eagles have been certified, and prices are moderate to MS62, expensive to MS64, and very expensive finer. The 1908-D No Motto is extremely expensive as Gem and finer. Proofs of the type are enigmatic; only one example has been certified to date (in matte finish), and would likely be priced at over one quarter million dollars.
Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, with modifications by Charles Barber
Circulation Mintage: high 239,406 (1907), low 33,500 (1908)
Proof Mintage: only one example certified, dated 1907
Diameter: 27 mm, edge with 46 raised stars
Metal Content: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 16.72 grams
Varieties: Very few minor die variations have been identified, however the two major 1907 Rim varieties mentioned above are highly collectible and expensive. (Pictured is one of the finest known Rolled Edge 1907 Eagles in existence. Graded PCGS MS-67, it sold in the 2007 Heritage FUN (January) Sale for $402,500.
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
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