Theodore Roosevelt left
behind a legacy unrivaled by most presidents. One of his lasting marks
was the changes he initiated on U.S. coinage, including the $2.50
Indian Head Quarter Eagle in 1908.
The idea of an incused design was proposed to
President Roosevelt by a
close friend, William Sturgis Bigelow. The president approved,
assigning Bigelow the responsibility of procuring a model for both the
quarter eagle and half eagle. Bigelow in turn enlisted the aid of
Boston sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt to prepare the models. Pratt submitted
his finished work to the Mint on June 29, 1908.
At the time design work began on the Indian Head Quarter Eagle, the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” had been removed from U.S. coinage. Roosevelt considered it a sacrilege to use God’s name on coins, and thus prohibited its use. Stemming from this, an interesting conversation between Bigelow and Roosevelt took place. Bigelow wrote:
Is it true that you are going to meet the criticisms on taking – “In God we Trust”—off the coins by putting “I know that my Redeemer liveth” on the Treasury notes?.
Before Roosevelt could act, Congress eliminated
the motto controversy by passing a bill on May 18, 1908, requiring the
motto be present on all gold and silver coinage. A law created in 1955
made the appearance of "IN GOD WE TRUST" mandatory of all U.S. coinage,
a law which is still in effect today.
It was the hope of every one that when our new coinage appeared we would have one of great beauty and artistic merit. But the new $5 and $2.50 gold pieces just issued totally lack these qualities, and not only those of beauty, but actually miss the practicability to which every effect of beauty in relief has been sacrificed…. The head of the Indian is without artistic merit, and portrays an Indian who is emaciated, totally unlike the big, strong Indian chiefs as seen in real life….. The sunken design, especially the sunken portion of the neck of the Indian, will be a great receptacle for dirt and conveyor of disease, and the coin will be the most unhygienic ever issue…. These coins will be a disgrace to our country as a monument of our present ideas of art as applied to coinage.
On top of that, a common complaint was that the
Indian Head Quarter Eagle did not stack well, nor did a stack equal the
stack height of the same number of its long-lived predecessor, the Coronet
Quarter Eagle, causing trouble for bank tellers trying to do quick
counts. Chapman did not give up easily. His next move was to take
his case directly to the president. Roosevelt's support of the new gold
coinage did not waver, and even if it had, the Pratt design was
protected by the law requiring coin types to remain in service for at
least 25 years before being replaced.
While This Coin Was Minted...
Theodore Roosevelt took a great interest in United States
coinage and played a leading role in reshaping its appearance. Since
the inception of the US Mint in 1792, tradition dictated that no real
person ever be depicted on a coin. With Roosevelt's encouragement, this
changed in 1909 with the adoption of the Lincoln
Cent. In addition, he directed a complete overhaul of the nation's
gold coinage, bringing worldwide acclaim to United States hard currency
as artistic marvels. Above, T.R. is pictured with his
granddaughter, in one of the last photos ever taken of the 26th U.S.
Indian Head Quarter Eagles were made every year
from 1908 through 1915,
at which time, production was put on hold. In 1925, the quarter eagle
resumed, but ended abruptly in 1929 following the stock market crash.
There may have been a plan to someday mint quarter eagles once more,
but as the Great Depression lingered on, the federal government in 1933
discontinued and demonetized gold coinage. Never again was there to be
United States gold coinage minted for general circulation.
It is a smart idea to insist that any 1911-D
Indian Head Quarter Eagle under consideration for purchase be certified
by one of the four leading grading service companies: PCGS, NGC, ICG,
or ANACS. Because the 1911-D is THE key date coin in the series, it has
received a lot of attention from hucksters who use sub par specimens or
outright fakes to swindle eager but inexperienced collectors. Then
again, if you're dealing with a seller of unquestioned reputation, it
is not quite so important that the coin be certified by one of the "Big