Indian Head Eagles

Teddy Roosevelt is remembered as one of our most vibrant presidents. A fearless agent of change, Roosevelt sought to elevate the artistic qualities of US coinage by tapping friend and acclaimed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to originate a new US gold eagle coin ($10 face value), and double eagle ($20).

Roosevelt appreciated firsthand Saint-Gaudens’ talent when the artist sketched an Inauguration medal for the 1905 ceremony.

From that time onward, it became the president’s personal mission to rejuvenate the image of American coinage. Beginning in November 1905 through May 1907, Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens exchanged frequent correspondence on the development of new US gold coinage.

Saint-Gaudens devised versions of Liberty in full body appearance and bust portraits. He experimented with eagles in both in flight and repose. Initially, his plan was to depict the bust view of Liberty on the $20 double eagle, complimented by a standing eagle on the reverse. Eventually, it was the $10 gold coin upon which these design elements were placed.


Gold $10 Indian Head Eagle
Coin Photos courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA




At Roosevelt’s urging, Saint-Gaudens added a fictional Native American war bonnet to Liberty. Hence the name “Indian Head Eagle” is usually, but inaccurately, applied to this series of coins. The reverse featured a proud eagle astride a bundle of arrows, very similar to the Inaugural medal of 1905.

US Coin Values Advisor has prepared Coin Value Tables for all Indian Head Eagles. Price trends and percent increases since 1950 are presented for individual coins of this series.

The first Indian Head Eagles struck in 1907 were of the “wire edge” variety, characterized by a sharp rim along the coin’s circumference, rather than an elevated rounded edge, which had long been the standard for U.S. coinage. The “wire edge” variety, an example of which is shown directly above, possessed 46 raised stars on its edge, symbolizing the 46 states of the Union at the time, and had periods stamped next to the E PLURIBUS UNUM motto. Because of their inability to stack well, the “wire edge” concept was abandoned. Only 500 examples of this variety were struck.

Triangle Fire 1911

While This Coin Was Minted...

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the 7th, 8th, and 9th floors of the building where the Triangle Shirtwaist Company operated in New York City. The flames spread quickly, fueled by piles of oily material scraps. With few fire escapes in place, 146 employees died from the fire or by jumping out windows. The photo above was taken in the makeshift morgue set up a short distance from where the tragedy occurred. The fire led to legislation requiring improved working conditions, strict fire safety codes, a shorter work week, and the prohibition of child labor under the age of 14 years.

Public domain image.

Next, a “rolled edge” was tried, consisting of a raised, rounded edge typical of rims normally formed on coins. The periods and stars were retained, resulting in weakly defined features caused by poor metal flow during the striking process. Before calling off the effort, 31,550 of the “rolled edge” variety were produced. All but 42 of them were melted down, creating a major rarity in US numismatics. The owner of a high quality example of this variety can expect to be paid at least $400,000 at selling time.

Improved strike quality was observed after the Indian Head Eagle was retooled to remove the periods around E PLURIBUS UNUM. Mass production of the “rolled edge” no periods ten dollar eagle began in November 1907. Before the close of the year, 239,406 of them were issued by the Mint.

Despite their overall public acceptance, the Saint-Gaudens gold coins were sharply criticized because the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was omitted. Roosevelt insisted on leaving the motto off, for he believed the use of the Almighty's name on coinage was a sign of disrespect, since money could be used for immoral purposes as well as good. Actually, Roosevelt lacked the authority to remove the motto, since it was mandated by the law of March 3, 1865. Responding to public pressure, Congress reasserted itself and forced IN GOD WE TRUST added to the coinage midway through 1908.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens died a few months before the first of his gold coins exited the Mint. The task of securing the final revisions was left to his able assistant, Henry Hering. Today, numismatic historians praise Saint-Gaudens as a major contributor who helped raise US coin design to a higher level, with a lot of help from his powerful friend in the White House.

The Indian Head Eagle was coined every year from 1907 to 1916. From that time onward, production was very sporadic. The minting of all gold coins ended suddenly with President Franklin Roosevelt’s Gold Order of 1933. Intended to thwart hoarders, this directive prohibited private ownership of gold coins and bullion. Gold owners were required to turn in their gold to the government in exchange for other forms of currency. Collectors were permitted to keep gold coinage of numismatic significance, however. All gold coins stored in Treasury and bank vaults were rounded up, and like the public's gold, melted down. Once the gold had been secured, Uncle Sam pushed the price of gold bullion from $20.67 and ounce to $35 an ounce, realizing a tidy profit in the process. Gold ownership and price controls was regulated to some degree by the federal government until January 1, 1975, when all remaining restrictions were lifted.

Only a few dozen of the 312,500 Indian Head Eagles dated 1933 were released into circulation before the Order went into effect and thus escaped destruction. The extreme rarity of the 1933 has catapulted it to legendary status. An example graded MS-65 by NGC sold in September 2008 for an amazing $450,000.

Of the remaining crop of Indian Head Eagles, the key dates are the 1920-S and the 1930-S. This duo displays the long term value increase trends one expects of a key date U.S. coin, but unfortunately, they are priced well above what the average collector can afford. There are a group of semi-key Indian Head Eagles that can still be had without mortgaging the house. Their track records are lackluster compared to the rarest issues, but given the dearth of opportunities to own key date Indian Head Eagles, they will be included in the recommendation list:

A safe piece of advice is to never buy a 1920-S or 1930-S Indian Head Eagle that has not been certified by one of the four leading grading service companies: PCGS, NGC, ICG, or ANACS.  It would be a disaster to plunk down $15,000 and then later realize you didn't get what you paid for. Purchasing a rare, key date Indian Head Eagle ought to be cause for joy, not concern. Much of the risk is removed by insisting that the coins have passed through the hands of one of the Big Four. As for the semi-key dates, its always better to have Big Four certification, but not critical, UNLESS you're considering coins in AU-50 or higher. In Mint State, an "error" of a point or two can cost you thousands.

The links below initiate a search of eBay coin auctions for the indicated key date Indian Head Eagles. The left hand side of each "Sales Box" reports value trends over a very long period of time for the key date in XF-40 condition.  The percent annual increase since 1950 is computed for comparative purposes. The "View All" link on the right side isolates the auctions (or Buy It Nows) featuring the coin indicated on the left side. Do not expect many offerings of the 1920-S or 1930-S. These coins are so rare that even in a coin universe as large as eBay, seldom does a specimen come onto the market. The coin pictured for sale in the right hand side, if any, is not necessarily the same condition coin as that represented in the value trend analysis on left hand side.



1911-D
Indian Hd Eagle
Condition: XF-40


1913-S
Indian Hd Eagle
Condition: XF-40

% Annual Increase Since 1950  =

6.01%
% Annual Increase Since 1950  =

5.48%


1915-S
Indian Hd Eagle
Condition: XF-40


1920-S
Indian Hd Eagle
Condition: XF-40

% Annual Increase Since 1950  =

5.54%
% Annual Increase Since 1950  =

7.84%


1930-S
Indian Hd Eagle
Condition: XF-40


% Annual Increase Since 1950  =

7.33%


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