Indian Head gold coins, panned when they were in production, now in demand

Coins designed by Bela Lyon Pratt unloved upon their release in 1908
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Published : 08/07/15
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The Joys of Collecting column from Aug. 24, 2015 issue of Coin World:

In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt commissioned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign the entire spectrum of coinage from the cent to the $20 double eagle. Saint-Gaudens created motifs for the eagle and double eagle.

With Saint-Gaudens’ death on Aug. 3, 1907, Roosevelt asked a friend, Dr. William S. Bigelow — who thought that the novelty of depressing the designs at level below the coin field was a good idea — to find another artist to continue the work. Selected was Bela Lyon Pratt

The new Pratt $2.50 quarter eagle and $5 half eagle, featuring an Indian Head obverse design, were trashed in the numismatic press. On Dec. 7, 1908, well-known Philadelphia coin dealer S. Hudson Chapman, wrote to President Roosevelt to express his displeasure, noting in part:

“It was the hope of everyone 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 effective beauty in relief has been sacrificed. …

“The head of the Indian is without artistic merit, and portrays an Indian who is emaciated. … The placing of the design below the surface of the flan, with deeply incised outlines, gives the effect of having been engraved into the metal, and can, therefore, be closely imitated by any metal chaser with the graver, without dies or moulds. And I am certain that if this had been suggested to the Secret Service officials it never would have been issued by the Treasury Department, and the issuance ought to be immediately stopped and the coins recalled. …

“The sunken design, especially the deeply 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 issued, …

”These coins will be a disgrace to our country as a monument of our present ideas of art as applied to coinage. …”

The effect of this was that hardly any numismatists desired to collect such pieces. As a result, except for some saved by the public as a novelty in the first year of issue, today many of these coins, issued intermittently though 1929, are very rare in Gem Mint State in relation to the demand for them.

Unlike the situation in 1908, in 2015 they are very popular!

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