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$10 Indian Head Gold Coins

The History of the $10 Indian Head Gold Coin

The $10 Indian gold piece, un-specifically referred to as a $10 Eagle because of U.S. legislation that defined the $10 denomination specifically as an "Eagle", has a long and rich American History. The design and production of this coin was a direct result of then President Theodore Roosevelt intervening in the normal operations and productions of the U.S. Mint. "Teddy" Roosevelt felt that the American coinage was of a design and artistic quality that was inferior to the image of America that he was striving to achieve at home and abroad. Rather than ask the U.S. Mint to redesign new coins, he successfully lobbied to have a personal friend of his, who happened to be a sculptor, design four new gold coins as well as the Cent coin.

This friend was Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Saint-Gaudens became the first non-U.S. Mint Employee to design a legal tender coin. If Saint-Gaudens had known the amount of backlash and resistance he would receive for accepting this personal request, perhaps he would have respectfully declined President Roosevelt's request.

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A Truly "Presidential" Design

Before Saint-Gaudens began work on the new $10 coin, he created designs for the new $20 "Double Eagle", which is today known by his name. The original idea was to use a scaled down version of the new design for the Double Eagle on the $10 piece, but this did not happen for a variety of reasons. Saint-Gaudens was not accepted welcomingly to the new projects by the staff at the U.S. Mint, who proved to be a prissy bunch. His dies were broken, his official correspondence was "lost", and his ability and character were attacked.

Nevertheless, Roosevelt absolutely loved the "Striding Lady Liberty" design for the front of the $20 gold coin, and commented that Saint-Gaudens' design of an eagle for the reverse of the new $20 piece, "Actually looks like an eagle!". Augustus Saint-Gaudens died of cancer in 1907, before he could finish his commissioned work for the President. Saint-Gaudens was however able to complete the design for the $10 Eagle that President Roosevelt had requested: Lady Liberty wearing the headdress of an Indian Warrior Chief!

At first glance the coin may appear to have the image of an Indian Chief on the obverse, or front of the coin, but upon a closer look, you will recognize "Lady Liberty" adorned in the feathered headdress reserved for Indian Chiefs! Even though the coin is known as a $10 Indian, there are no depictions of Indians anywhere on the coin!

The Reverse Design of the $10 Indian Head Gold Coin

Saint-Gaudens' design that was used on the back, or reverse, of the new $10 Eagle is a strong depiction of an American Bald Eagle clutching a bunch of arrows which are encircled by an olive branch. The original design for the reverse of the new coin did not include the motto "In God We Trust" as President Roosevelt found the inclusion of the wording "Sacrilegious" and Saint-Gaudens believed that the inclusion of any script not required by legislation "Intrusive" upon the artwork. Due to public outcry and new legislation, the "In God We Trust" motto was added to later mintings of the coin. The coin was produced from 1907 to 1916 and then intermittently until 1933.

The Composition and Mintages of the $10 Indian Head Gold Coin

The $10 Indian is composed of 90% gold and 10% copper. The copper was alloyed with the gold in order to give the coin a specific hardness necessary for use in everyday circulation by the public. The coin has a mass of 16.718 grams and the gold content is therefore .48375 ounces troy. The coin has a diameter of 26.92 millimeters.

Much like the $20 gold piece created by Saint-Gaudens, the $10 Indian first saw minting in 1907, and this particular design did not include the “In God We Trust” motto. Also like the $20 Saint-Gaudens gold coin, the motto was added to the coin in 1908, and in 1908 the Denver Mint also began striking the Indian Head gold piece. At the request of President Theodore Roosevelt, $10 Indian Head coins with a “Wire Rim” were minted, although the design was changed after only five hundred of these coins were pressed. The Philadelphia Mint explained that the design was too labor intensive and costly to produce. The survivors of these five hundred coins are extremely valuable and quite sought after.

In 1908 both the Denver and San Francisco Mints began producing the $10 Indian Head Gold Eagle, though only the San Francisco and Philadelphia Mints produced the coin without the “In God We Trust” motto; all of the Indian Head Eagles struck by the Denver mint carried the motto. The most common $10 Indian Head coins were produced by the Philadelphia Mint in 1932, when over four million of the coins were minted and released for circulation. Besides the five hundred wire rimmed coins produced in 1907, the next rarest $10 Indian Head was produced in 1911 by the Denver Mint when only 30,100 were struck.  The edge of the coin originally had 46 stars struck around it’s diameter to represent the 46 States of the nation, and this number was changed to 48 in 1912 to recognize the addition of New Mexico and Arizona to the Union.

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