The Indian Head quarter eagle and its larger companion, the half eagle, stand out from all the rest of United States coinage because their designs and lettering are sunken in a plane that is uniformly flat. The highest points of relief are level with the coins' fields, and they have no raised rims to protect them from wear. In fact, the only element of these coins to exceed the level of their fields are their mint marks, if any.
The obverse depicts a realistic-looking Indian brave in a war bonnet, with the date, thirteen stars and the motto LIBERTY forming a circle around this central device. The reverse shows an eagle in repose, perched upon fasces and an olive branch, the intertwined symbols of preparedness and peace. Through judicious sizing and placement, Pratt succeeded in incorporating four different inscriptions on this side, (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, E PLURIBUS UNUM, IN GOD WE TRUST and the statement of value) without causing the coin to seem unbalanced, cluttered or cramped.
Indian Head quarter eagles were issued annually from 1908 through 1915. At that point, the Mint suspended their production for a decade; when it resumed in 1925, the coins were struck for five more years before the series ended in 1929-one of many victims of that year's Wall Street crash. As the depression took hold, what little gold came into the Mint was used for production of double eagles. With the cessation of gold coinage and the great recall of 1934, the quarter eagle would not return.
With just fifteen different date-and-mint combinations (twelve issues from the Philadelphia Mint and three from Denver), the series is one of the smallest in U.S. coinage, making a complete set attainable for many collectors despite the relatively high cost of buying anything made of gold. Its affordability is enhanced by the fact that only one coin, the 1911-D, is notably scarce; at 55,680, it's the only coin with a mintage of less than 240,000. The Denver mint mark can be found on the reverse, to the left of the arrowheads.
Relatively small numbers of matte proofs were made in every year from 1908 through 1915, but not in the final five years. The flat matte finish of the proofs proved unpopular with collectors of the day, and many remained unsold, to later be melted by the Mint.
Being recessed, the design elements on Indian Head quarter eagles are protected from excessive wear. At the same time, this complicates the grading of these coins, since the patterns of normal wear differ from those of raised-relief coins. Critical areas for detecting traces of wear are the Indian's cheekbone and headdress feathers and the shoulder of the eagle's left wing.
Courtesy Numismatic Guarantee Corp. (NGC).
Diameter: 18 millimeters
Weight: 4.18 grams
Composition: .900 gold, .100 copper
Net Weight: .12094 ounce pure gold
Mint Mark: None for Philadelphia-'D' for Denver Branch