Indian Head Gold Coins
GOLD INDIAN COINAGE
America in the early days of the 20th century was a rapidly growing political and economic power. And one man, perhaps like no other, came to symbolize America’s dramatic emergence as a leader on the world stage: Theodore Roosevelt.
Born to privilege yet forever driven in his fight for the common man, “TR” spent his life in the service of his country. As a statesman, author, historian, outdoorsman, conservationist and life-long civil servant, Theodore Roosevelt fought for a “square deal” for business, labor andthe public at large. He was first and foremost an ardent champion of America and its native roots, and believed his country’s prestige and greatness had to be reflected in one of America’s most important and precious assets, its coinage.
Commenting that America’s coinage at the time was “artistically of atrocious hideousness” Roosevelt sought out the widely-acclaimed artist and sculptor who had created Roosevelt’s 1905 presidential inauguration medallion, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and asked him to redesign America’s gold coinage. The result of that effort were two breakthrough designs for both the $20 gold “Double Eagle” coin and the $10 gold “Eagle” coin, where Miss Liberty was adorned with an Indian headdress. Both were introduced with great fanfare in 1907 but, unfortunately, Saint-Gaudens passed away before he was able to complete the designs for the balance of America’s gold coinage.
Roosevelt then commissioned one of Saint-Gauden’s former students, Bela Lyon Pratt, to develop designs for both the $5 gold “Half Eagle” coin and the $2.50 gold “Quarter Eagle” coin. The novel design Pratt developed for these coins was both innovative and a somewhat shocking departure from all earlier U.S. coinage, an incuse design where the coin’s devices (its designs and lettering) were recessed into the surface of the coin rather than raised above the coin’s field. To this day, no other U.S. coins have ever been minted in this manner. Owning all three types of Gold Indians make a fantastic addition to any hard asset portfolio.
This gold “Indian Series” as a three-coin set is remarkable for a number of important reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they were America’s last gold coins produced for general circulation. In addition, over the course of time, production of the various Indian Series gold coins was suspended several times, most notably during the period of the First World War. And, these coins are exceptionally noteworthy because of their unique designs and intriguing subject, their sheer beauty and their political significance. That is, they are a historically significant representation of the political era when the U.S. government’s preference evolved to Democracy over Liberty.
Since before the Roman Empire, coinage has been both medium of exchange and a political communication device. In the United States, under the congressional Mint Act of 1792, the obverse of all coinage was to bear an “impression emblematic of Liberty” as it clearly had for 115 years. Though copper cents and small “Princess” gold of the previous century were referred to using names inclusive of the “Indian” word, the images were an unmistakeable Caucasian Miss Liberty. The Indian cent has “Liberty” on her cap, and the headdress on the Princes gold coins was more akin to a roman tiara than anything that would be seen on the plains of North America. Furthermore, the princess tiara is generally understood to be but an adaptation by the progressive designer to create an Americanized liberty cap, and did in fact carry the longstanding “Liberty” inscription on the forehead band.
It was in 1907 when a typical native chief headdress adorned Miss Liberty on the Indian $10 piece. Then, the next year, is when a true Native American figure was featured without the liberty reference on the Indian head of both the Half and Quarter Eagles. The two coins had a proud Native American chief in full headdress, surrounded by 13 stars, representing the original 13 states of the Union, and the word “Liberty” added in contrast to Pratt’s original clay sketch without any reference whatsoever.
Despite their beauty and popularity, the vast majority of Indian Series gold coins were deemed illegal to own as a result of Executive Order 6102, issued by Theodore Roosevelt’s distant cousin, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in April of 1933. Indians, along with most other U.S. gold coins other than numismatically-valuable “collectibles” were confiscated. It is estimated that 90% or more of all gold coins in existence at that time were melted into gold bullion bars and placed into government vaults, where it is said they remain to this day.
There are, however, a relatively small number of Indian Series gold coins that still exist today, although finding high-quality examples of these coins in investment-grade condition is becoming increasingly difficult. As more and more investors and collectors enter the market, the growing demand for the small remaining population of coins is putting upward pressure on prices for these treasured rarities, and many of these coins, especially those in highly-preferred investment grades, are very difficult (and some dates almost impossible) to find, at any price.
For a detailed description of each Indian coin type, and to view featured items, explore each denomination’s specific page.