Artistic and U.S. coinage were two words that hardly ever appeared in the same sentence. It was an image President Theodore Roosevelt was determined to change with his sweeping coinage design legislation.
One of the more unusual examples produced from this change was the $5 Indian Head Gold ½ Eagle designed by Bela Lyon Pratt (a pupil of Augustus Saint-Gaudens) and produced from 1908 to 1929. What made the coin unusual was the fact that both the obverse and reverse designs were incused or sunken below the surface of the coin and the coin had no raised rim.
Similar to Morgan Dollars, the artistic design was initially condemned by many leading numismatics of the time but current day numismatic collectors now view the coin as a beautiful piece of artistic design and is a highly desired piece in many collections today. Unfortunately, the initial negative view created little desire for collectors to save coins for their collections so few high end examples exist today.
Unlike Gaudens Indian Head Eagle, the obverse design is a bust image of a true representation of a Native American Indian wearing a traditional war bonnet. On the outer periphery is the word “LIBERTY” and 13 stars that represented the original 13 states or colonies of the union. Just below the bust design are the designer's “B.L.P.”.
The reverse design is based on Gaudens $10 Eagle reverse and features a standing eagle on a perch of bundled arrows and an olive branch. To the right of the Eagles head are the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and next to the eagles breast is the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST”. On the outer periphery are the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and denomination “FIVE DOLLARS”. A mint mark for San Francisco (S) or Denver (D) are located to the right of the arrows. Coins minted at the Philadelphia mint carried no mint marks.
General Market Notes
The keys to the series are the 1909-O and 1929 issues. The semi-key is the 1911-D issue.
Due to the high valuations of these coins it is not uncommon to discover fakes or counterfeits. It is highly recommended NOT to purchase a raw specimen but a certified coin from a reputable seller.