In 1908, the Indian Head design of Bela Lyon
Pratt was placed on the
nation’s $2.50 quarter eagles and $5 half eagles. Pratt’s design was
unlike any other seen in American coinage, in that the features of the
coin were incused (meaning indented or recessed), as opposed to raised
above the surface.
One of the president’s closest friends was a
Boston doctor named
William Sturgis Bigelow. A connoisseur of history and the arts, Bigelow
had studied the incuse nature of wall designs from ancient Egypt, and
suggested a similar approach to U.S. coinage. Never afraid to try
something new, Roosevelt agreed, and Bigelow procured the noted
sculptor Pratt to prepare the models.
Pratt submitted his models to Mint Director Frank Leach on June 29, 1908, accompanied by a letter which read:
Sir, I am sending to the mint
at Philadelphia, the model of the coin which I have prepared and I
hope same will prove satisfactory. I wish that those in charge of
making the die would follow the models absolutely or at least would
make no changes without consulting me.
Less than three months later, the first trial sample was produced. On September 26, Roosevelt wrote the following to Bigelow:
Dear Sturgis: I enclose you the visible proof of a great service you have rendered the country -- and I am speaking with scientific accuracy. Here you will see the five dollar gold piece, the copy of the models you have prepared, and a month hence our five dollar gold pieces that are issued from the mint will all be of this type. This one I send you as the first one struck. It therefore has a peculiar interest and I feel you are peculiarly entitled to have it; so please accept it with the compliments of Director Leach and myself. Ever yours, etc.
The half eagle referred to by Roosevelt in his
letter above never reached Bigelow; apparently it was stolen after the
letter was sent.
Dear Mr. President: I have...an interesting letter from Mr. Samuel Hudson Chapman concerning the new gold coins... He says the head of the Indian is "without artistic merit and portrays an Indian who is emaciated"... The answer to this is that the head was taken from a recent photograph of an Indian whose health was excellent. Perhaps Mr. Chapman has in mind the fatter but less characteristic type of Indian sometimes seen on the reservations... "The sunken design will be a great receptacle for dirt and conveyor of disease, and the coin will be the most unhygienic ever issued."...The question of hygiene has more relation to silver coins than gold, as they find their way into dirtier pockets. A dirty gold coin would be an anomaly. I have never happened to see one.
While This Coin Was Minted...
A large crowd gathers in front of the Wall Street stock
exchange in New York on "Black Tuesday," October 29, 1929. Panic
began settling in on the trading floor on October 24, but it was on
Black Tuesday the stock market utterly collapsed. The Wall Street Crash
had a major impact on the U.S. and world economy. The decline in stock
prices caused bankruptcies and severe difficulties, including business
closures and millions of lost jobs. The resultant rise of mass
unemployment and the financial turbulence came about as a direct result
of the crash, but the crash itself was not the single event that
triggered the widespread downturn. Because Black Tuesday is so readily
associated with the crises that followed immediately, it is generally
regarded as beginning of the Great Depression.
Other complaints abounded: concern over
counterfeiting, stacking capability, coin thickness, and more. Unshaken
by the naysayer corps, Roosevelt allowed the Bigelow-Pratt gold coinage
to continue, with no alterations to the design.
It is a wise move to buy only key date Indian
Head Half Eagles that
have been certified by one of the four leading grading service
companies: PCGS, NGC, ICG, or ANACS. If you're dealing with a seller of
unchallenged reputation, then perhaps certification by one of the Big
Four is not as critical. Grading is so important that it cannot be
overstated. Prices for key date Indian Head Half Eagles double or
triple when comparing MS-60 to MS-62. Some of the less exacting dealers
utilize lesser known grading services and have been known to offer a
"bargain" price for a coin they claim is MS-62. Inexperienced buyers
quickly latch onto their lucky find, only to discover that the coin is
regarded as an MS-60 by widely accepted numismatic standards. Don't get
caught in this unfortunate trap.