$10 Gold Indian Head

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The Indian Head eagle was a $10 gold piece or eagle struck by the United States Mint continuously from 1907 until 1916, and then irregularly until 1933. The obverse and reverse were designed by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, originally commissioned for use on other denominations. He was suffering from cancer and did not survive to see the coins released.

Beginning in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt proposed new, more artistic designs on US coins, prompting the Mint to hire Saint-Gaudens to create them. Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens at first considered a uniform design for the four denominations of coins which were struck in gold, but in 1907 Roosevelt decided to use a model for the obverse of the eagle that the sculptor had meant to use for the cent. For the reverse of the $10 coin, the President decided on a design featuring a standing bald eagle that had been developed for the Saint-Gaudens double eagle $20 coin, while the obverse features a left-facing bust of Liberty wearing an Indian feather headdress.  In other words, the $10 Indian Head is not really an Indian head at all.  It is Lady Liberty wearing a Native American head dress.

The coin as sculpted by Saint-Gaudens was too high in relief for the Mint to strike readily, and it took months to modify the design so that the coin could be struck by one blow of the Mint’s presses. Saint-Gaudens died on August 3, 1907, and Roosevelt insisted that the new eagle be finished and struck that month. New pieces were given to the President on August 31 which differ from the coins struck later for circulation.

The omission of the motto “In God We Trust” on the new coins caused public outrage, and prompted Congress to pass a bill mandating its inclusion. Mint Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber added the words and made minor modifications to the design. The Indian Head eagle was struck regularly until 1916, and then intermittently until President Franklin Roosevelt directed the Mint to stop producing gold coins in 1933. Its termination ended the series of eagles struck for circulation begun in 1795. Many Indian Head eagles were melted by the government in the late 1930s; the 1933 issue is a particular rarity, as few were distributed.

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