The Indian Head Gold Coins were to be the new Eagle, Half Eagle and Quarter Eagle gold coins replacing the Liberty Head coins which had been minted since 1838. President Roosevelt asked his friend Augustus Saint Gaudens to design the gold Indian Heads after he had finished designing the St Gaudens Gold Double Eagles. Although St Gaudens preferred the design of the new double eagle and it would be natural to make the Eagle, Half Eagle and Quarter Eagle in the same design, after a lot of communication with the President it was decided that these three smaller denominations would be minted with a completely different design.
St Gaudens $10 Eagle design was first minted in 1907. The original design was too high a relief so the first strike was delayed until the coin could be made sufficiently flat to be minted with a single strike of the press. Augustus St Gaudens was suffering from cancer and he would die before the coin was produced for circulation. The first 500 were minted with a wire rim instead of the rolled edge that is usually found on US coins.
The Eagles with the wire edge would not stack in the normal way and were deemed to be not practical so the format was changed to a rolled edge. A total of 31,550 of these were then produced but the changes had caused some striking problems and the decision was made to melt them rather than put them into circulation. Only 42 of these coins survived the melt. Various further modifications were made to the design of the Indian Head Eagle before they eventually minted 240,000 of them and they were finally released from the Philadelphia Mint in late 1907.
The Indian Head Eagle obverse design depicts Lady Liberty wearing a head-dress with the word “Liberty” across the head-band. This type of feathered head-dress would normally only be worn by a male Native American warrior. Also, there was no attempt to show Lady Liberty with any Native American features. Around the top of the coin are thirteen stars representing the original colonies and the date of issue is shown at the bottom.
The Indian Head Eagle reverse shows the Bald Eagle. The Eagles claws are holding a bunch of arrows which is encircled by olive branches. The words “United States Of America” are shown above the Bald Eagle and the denomination of “Ten Dollars” is shown below with the Latin “E Pluribus Unum” meaning “One from many” above the shoulder.
Roosevelt ordered that the Eagles should be produced without the inscription “In God We Trust” even though this was on every US coin for over 100 years. His said that God’s name should not be put onto coins which might be used in saloons, gambling halls and brothels. However, public outrage caused Congress to pass a bill ordering the US Mint to include the motto “In God We Trust” and therefore the coin was minted with the motto from 1908 onwards.
The $10 Indian Head eagle was minted continuously until 1916, and then periodically until the changes in the law during “The Great Depression” to try stabilize the US Dollar. On April 5th, 1933 the Government declared a national state of emergency and began confiscating all the gold in the USA. They made it illegal to own gold bullion and if any US citizen was caught with it they would be sent to prison for 10 years, receive a fine of up to $10,000 or both.
The Indian Head Half Eagle and Quarter Eagle coins are identical in design but very different from the Eagle and Double Eagle. The designs of the two smaller denominations are based on the $10 Eagle but with two major differences. The obverse does not have Lady Liberty wearing a head-dress but instead it shows a Native American Indian with the warrior head-dress. An even more radical change is in the recessed surface or sunken design.
The Smaller Indian Head Gold Coins were designed by Pratt and Bigelow and the recessed surface is totally unique for US coinage. The reason for this change was because they would have difficulty fitting all of the different inscriptions on to such small coins. When they were released in 1908 they were met with significant criticism from the public and politicians.
The Indian Head Half Eagle was minted from 1908 to 1916 and also in 1929. The Indian Head Quarter Eagle was struck from 1908 until 1915 and then after a 10 year break 1925 to 1929. The two coins remain the only circulated US minted coins which have the sunken design.