US Coins

Indian Head eagles are collecting possibility

The Joys of Collecting column from the Sept. 21, 2015, issue of Coin World:

Among 20th century American gold coins, Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Indian Head $10 eagles, minted from 1907 to 1933, are probably second in beauty only to his double eagles. The series offers 30 different basic dates and Mint mark varieties of the $10 coins, plus two semi-patterns of 1907. The 30 coins are affordable except for three: 1920-S, 1930-S, and 1933. 

Building a collection of as many as you can afford can be an interesting pursuit. Mint State 63 is an ideal grade — high enough that coins can be very beautiful, but low enough that many are in the low- to mid-thousands of dollars. Of course, that bar is rather high to begin with and requires a comfortable budget.

In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt asked Saint-Gaudens to redesign the entire American coinage spectrum from the cent to the double eagle. Working in his studio in Cornish, N.H., the artist prepared many sketches. In failing health, Saint-Gaudens was able to complete or nearly complete work for just two denominations, the $10 and $20, both of which were first struck in 1907. He died on Aug. 3 of that year.

His $10 design bore on the obverse a female wearing an Indian war bonnet, said by some to have been taken from the portrait of one of his intimate lady friends, Davida Clark, with whom he is alleged to have had a child.

The bonnet or headdress is inscribed LIBERTY on a band, 13 stars are in an arc above, and the date is below. The reverse features a perched eagle. 

In 1907 a story made the rounds and was widely published in newspapers that the model, another young lady, was — heaven forbid — an immigrant. This may have arisen from a commentary datelined Harrisburg, Pa., Sept. 19, 1907: “Victor Boyer, state counselor of the Order of Independent Americans, will personally present to Secretary [of the Treasury] Cortelyou the protest of the order against placing the profile of Mary Cunningham on the United States gold coins. Miss Cunningham was a waitress in a Cornish, Vermont, eating house when discovered by the late Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the sculptor, who selected her as the model for the design he had been commissioned to execute for the government. The Independent Americans, admitting her rare beauty, object because she was born in Ireland.”

More about Mary next week.

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