Eagles – Indian Head Eagle, With Motto, 1908-1933
In 1907 a collaboration between the dynamic president Theodore Roosevelt and renown American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens resulted in new designs for both the twenty dollar gold coin and the ten dollar gold coin. The new design on the eagle 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-Gaudens’ 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, is not an anatomically correct representation of a bald eagle (the legs are longer, for example).
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Artistic license aside, a greater problem for the Mint was the reality that the raised edge of the first Indian Head eagles would not stack, and the modified rounded rim pieces apparently would not strike with satisfactory quality. It was left to the often maligned Mint Engraver Charles Barber to make additional changes (he had also 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 the first two years of the type. The first Indian Head eagles omitted the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, which appeared on the previous Liberty Head eagle, and which was in fact mandated by the Act of March 3, 1865, but 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 the reverse for issues produced later in 1908. In what was perhaps a tribute to Saint-Gaudens’ artistic skills, Bella Lyon Pratt used a virtual copy of the gold ten dollar reverse eagle in his designs for the quarter eagle and half eagle gold coins of the same era. Indian Head With Motto eagles were minted yearly from 1908 through 1916, but none were minted from 1917 through 1919, 1921 through 1925, 1927 through 1929, or in 1931. Though over 300,000 With Motto Indian Head eagles were minted in 1933, the last year of the type, most were melted prior to extensive distribution after President Franklin Roosevelt’s April 1933 Executive Order 6102, which severely limited the possession of gold by U.S. citizens.
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 top third of 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 at 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; to the left of the eagle is IN GOD WE TRUST, also in three lines. The edge has 46 raised stars through 1911, and 48 stars from 1912 forward (the stars representing the number of states in the Union). No Motto Indian Head eagles were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mintmarks are to the left of TEN, below the tip of the olive branch, with the bottom edge parallel to the curved rim.
Tens of thousands of business strike With Motto Indian Head eagles have been certified, significantly more for 1926 and 1932, and significantly fewer for 1920-S, 1930-S, and 1933. Prices are moderate for many dates through MS62, expensive to MS64, and very expensive or extremely expensive finer. The more expensive issues, particularly as MS62 and finer, include 1920-S (extremely expensive finer than MS63), 1930-S (extremely expensive finer than MS65), other San Francisco pieces, 1911-D (extremely expensive finer than MS64), and 1933, extremely expensive in all grades. Proofs were struck from 1908 through 1915, and a few hundred examples have been certified. Proofs with Matte finish were produced in 1908, 1909 and 1911 through 1915; Satin finish proofs were made in 1908-1910. All Indian Head With Motto eagle proofs are very expensive to extremely expensive, particularly those examples finer than PR65.
Designer: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, with modifications by Charles Barber
Circulation Mintage: high 4,463,000 (1932), low 30,100 (1911-D). Mintage figures may not accurately reflect availability, due to gold coin recall and melting.
Proof Mintage: high 204 (1910), low 50 (1914)
Diameter: 27 mm, edge with 46 raised stars (48 stars from 1912 forward)
Metal Content: 90% gold, 10% copper
Weight: 16.72 grams
Varieties: A few minor die variations have been identified.
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins: 1795-1933. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.