Indian $5 Gold Eagles

Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt
Face Value: $5.00
Pure Gold Content: .24187 oz.
Diameter: 21.6mm
Mints: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans
Years Minted: 1908-1916 and 1929

Theodore RooseveltThe Indian Head $5 gold pieces, and its smaller half-size twin, are unlike any other circulating coinage of the U.S. Mint. Their incuse design, with details sunken below the plain, instead of raised details, was a spectacular and daring innovation of the day. Normally, an idea so revolutionary would have been implausible, if it were not for the extreme power and perseverance of none other than Sir Teddy Roosevelt, himself. He is a man that voraciously welcomed fresh ideas in national affairs. The larger-than-life political figure towered over any reservations in regards to his dream to make US coinage modern, sensational and the most beautiful in the world, befitting his perception of U.S. greatness.

After the President persuaded the famous sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to redesign the two larger gold coins (the $20 gold Double Eagle and the $10 Eagle), another notable sculptor, Bela Lyon Pratt, was recruited and commissioned to design the two remaining Half and Quarter Eagle gold coins. The resulting obverse design was the first truly realistic Native American figure on U.S. coinage. It is believed that the Native American that inspired the figure was Chief Hollow Horn Bear. In fact, in 1905, Hollow Horn Bear was invited to take part in the presidential inauguration of Theodore Roosevelt.

Bela Lyon Pratt, Pratts Plaster Models and Chief Hollow Horn

In 1908, as Americans saw their first Indian Head Half Eagle in commerce, it must not have been very reassuring since the previous liberty head coinage design had been in circulation for about seven decades. And, there was no shortage of critics, but none to rival the tenacity of Roosevelt. Even the U. S. Mint’s chief engraver, Charles E. Barber, was less than totally supportive and did make seemingly unneeded modifications in Pratt’s designs, just as he had done earlier with Saint-Gaudens’ models. All said, in the end, Roosevelt’s support was really all that mattered. Historically important, the use of a noted sculptor as a coin’s designer was once again a great success.

Collecting Indian Head Half Eagles

Indian Head Half Eagles were issued each year 1908 through 1916, but minting was then suspended for 13 years. The Mint did resume striking $5 gold pieces in 1929, but for just one year, as the Great Depression took its toll. The 1929 Gold Half Eagle is the most desirable key in the series, and is valued at thousands . . . even in circulated grades. Mint records show its mintage as much as 662,000, but the vast majority were obviously melted. Also, there are other scarce dates, which include 1909-O, 1911-D and 1908-S, all with much smaller mintages. Of the two-dozen issues in the series, nine are San Francisco, five are Denver and a lone New Orleans issue in 1909, making it the only year with all four mint marks.

Being recessed, the design elements on Indian Head half eagles are shielded from heavy wear. At the same time, this can complicate grading since wear patterns differ from those of raised-relief coins, making graded coins by NGC and PCGS evermore critical. Interestingly, though the coin’s innovative design met with mixed reviews, Indian Head Half Eagles were saved in the first year of issue, so 1908 Philadelphia Mint pieces represent one of the most available dates in mint state condition. One of the most commonly seen mint state example of the series is the 1909-D, because thousands apparently resulted from a found hoard.

Indian $5 Gold Eagles

Philadelphia Denver San Francisco New Orleans Total Issues
1908 1908-D 1908-S 3
1909 1909-D 1909-S 1909-O 4
1910 1910-D 1910-S 3
1911 1911-D 1911-S 3
1912 1912-S 2
1913 1913-S 2
1914 1914-D 1914-S 3
1915 1915-S 2
1916-S 1
1929 1
9 5 9 1 24
Total Issues of Basic Set: 24