Know your U.S. coins: Indian Head $10 eagle

The $20 gold double eagle designed by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens is acclaimed as one of the most beautiful coins ever struck by the U.S. Mint.

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.

COIN VALUES: 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 gold eagle.

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:


Half dollars:


Gold coins:

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