The $20 gold double eagle designed by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens
is acclaimed as one of the most beautiful coins ever struck by the
Yet another Saint-Gaudens creation, the Indian Head $10 gold eagle,
is somewhat overlooked in comparison, even though the designs for the
eagle denomination were originally intended for the double eagle.
It was the first coin produced by the Mint using the Janvier lathe,
a new reducing machine that Saint-Gaudens recommended the Mint
purchase to achieve the quality in numismatic art then being produced
in Europe, especially in France.
It also appeared without the motto "In God We Trust,"
sparking Congress to enact legislation mandating its restoration.
Find out how much your Indian Head $10 eagle goin
coin is worth today
Buttressed by President Theodore Roosevelt's deep personal interest
in United States coinage, Saint-Gaudens was presented with the
challenge in January 1905 of creating new designs for the eagle,
double eagle and cent. Roosevelt was particularly enamored with the
aesthetic qualities of the coins of ancient Greece.
Saint-Gaudens undertook his task of new coin designs with great
vigor as he prepared sketches soon after his return to his studio in
Cornish, N.H. Preliminary sketches centered on designs for the $10
Saint-Gaudens tried his hand at representations of a standing eagle,
one of which eventually graced the reverse of the special 1905
presidential inaugural medal. Adaptations of that standing eagle
design would eventually be used on $20 gold double eagle patterns and
ultimately on the adopted reverse of the $10 Indian Head eagle.
Saint-Gaudens was inspired by the classical figure of Nike, or
Victory, when he created preliminary designs for a winged,
full-standing figure of Liberty for the double eagle's obverse. For
the cent's obverse, Saint-Gaudens designed a profile from the head of
Victory that he had originally prepared for the Gen. William Tecumseh
Sherman Monument in 1905, but did not use.
It would later be adapted, with the olive wreath replaced by a
feather headdress, for the obverse of the $10 eagle.
Roosevelt, however, had emphatic ideas about what he wanted depicted
on the coins.
"... Is it possible to make a Liberty with that Indian feather
head-dress? ... Would the feather headdress be any more out of keeping
with the rest of Liberty than the canonical Phrygian cap which is
never worn by any free people in the world?" Roosevelt wrote in a
Nov. 14, 1905, letter to Saint-Gaudens.
There was no legal basis for the use on coins of the motto "In
God We Trust," which first appeared in 1864 on the 2-cent coin.
Roosevelt considered the inclusion of a reference to God on a coin as
sacrilegious, so the motto was dropped from the eagle and double eagle
denominations of 1907. The public clamor from what was construed as a
blasphemous act and abuse of executive power was remedied by Congress,
which mandated by law in 1908 the inclusion of the motto on all U.S. coins.
There were, however, certain legal requirements at the time with
which Saint-Gaudens struggled: the date, the wordliberty, the phrase e
pluribus unum, 13 stars for the original 13 Colonies, 46 stars for the
number of states then in the Union, the coin's denomination and the
inscription united states of america.
Saint-Gaudens resolved the issue on the $10 eagle by using 46 raised
stars to replace the previously reeded edge.liberty was placed on the
band of the Indian headdress, with the date in Roman numerals below
the trunk of the bust and 13 stars around the top border.
Because of Saint-Gaudens' recurring setbacks from cancer, New York
sculptor Henry Hering, a former classmate at the Art Students League,
modeled the coin designs.
By January 1907, Saint-Gaudens had settled on the profile Indian
head for the obverse and the standing eagle for the reverse of the $10
coin. Roosevelt – determined in seeing the gold coins in circulation
before Congress convened in January 1908 – gave the order to the
secretary of the Treasury to begin releasing the gold coins by Sept.
1, 1907, a month after Saint-Gaudens' death.
Chief Mint Engraver Charles E. Barber resisted the order, since he
only had workable dies for the $10 eagles, not $20 coins. The $10
eagles were subsequently produced from dies made from Barber's
modification of Saint-Gaudens second high-relief models.
Two types of pattern $10 eagles were struck during this period. On
both, the reverse dies have periods before and after the legends.
The first type had the designs higher than the rim, prohibiting the
coins from stacking properly. The defect was corrected on the second.
Elimination of "In God We Trust" created a public outcry and
congressional furor that Roosevelt had not foreseen.
Congressional hearings were held and the motto restored by Act of
Congress. Roosevelt withdrew his previous objections and directed that
the motto be placed on the coins. The motto appears on all coins
issued after July 1, 1908.
Lofty prices are received for the 1907 Wire Rim, Periods variety
pattern, of which 500 were produced, and of the 1907 Rolled Rim,
Periods (only 42 were struck).
However, as a rule, premiums are not necessarily analogous to lower
mintages where the $10 eagles are concerned. The 1911-S, with just
51,000 pieces struck, has almost no premium in the circulated grades.
Yet the 1920-S, with 126,500 struck, carries a significant premium
even in Fine 12 condition because most of the mintage was melted at
the Mint and not released.
The cream of collecting is the 1933 eagle, the only collectible coin
of the final date of circulating U.S. gold coinage, with possibly only
20 pieces known. Even though 312,500 pieces were struck, only a small
number made it out of the Mint. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's
Executive Order of April 5, 1933, recalling gold coinage, snuffed out
their widespread release.
Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:
Cents and half cents:
2- and 3-cent coins:
Dimes and half dimes: