20th Century Indian Gold

Indian Gold Coins of the 20th CenturyWritten by Mike Thorne
This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine

U.S. gold coins, and particularly Indian Head varieties of the 20th century, are among the most popularly collected U.S. coins. There are good reasons for this popularity. First of all, the coins are undeniably beautiful, especially the sunken designs on gold $2.50s and $5s by Bela Lyon Pratt.

Another reason for their popularity is that all three series are relatively limited. In other words, it doesn’t take many different coins to form a complete collection. Unfortunately for collectors who desire set completion, the $5 Indian Head and the $10 Indian Head series contain multiple major stoppers. Indian Head gold $2.50s, by contrast, have only one stopper, and it, as gold key coins go, is readily attainable and affordable.

Published by Subterfuge Publishing, the book I’m reviewing this month is Indian Gold Coins of the 20th Century, by Mike Fuljenz. Fuljenz is a well-known coin dealer and the president of Universal Coin & Bullion, which is located in Beaumont, Texas.
Fuljenz starts with “A History of the Indian Head Quarter & Half Eagles.” To give you some of the flavor of his writing, here’s how the book begins: “Conceived in controversy, born of conflict, and reviled at birth, the $2.50 and $5 Indian Head Quarter [and Half] Eagles overcame [their] rocky beginnings to become two of America’s most popular gold coins. The tale of these extraordinary coins ripple[s] with the sinews of high drama and political intrigue, of powerful ambition hammering against bureaucratic inertia, of soaring imagination transcending drab intellect.” Notwithstanding the grammatical problems, this is captivating writing.

Of course, much of the story of the creation of America’s last gold $2.50s and $5s involves “one of the most colorful of all American presidents, Theodore Roosevelt.…” Fuljenz gives a capsule biography of Roosevelt in a chapter titled “Significant Players.” Some of the other players are Dr. William Bigelow, whose suggestion of a radical design led to the incuse designs on the Indian Head gold $2.50s and $5s; Charles Barber, whose lack of imagination caused Roosevelt to “look outside the Mint for fresh ideas”; and Frank Leach, who was Mint director during the period when Roosevelt’s mandated new coin designs were being adopted.

Fuljenz also has a chapter devoted to “Significant Players of the $10 Indian Head Eagles.” In addition to Roosevelt (of course), there is famed artist and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. About Saint-Gaudens, Fuljenz writes, “In many respects, Augustus Saint-Gaudens was Roosevelt’s opposite number, the yin to Roosevelt’s yang.” As in the preceding chapter, Barber and Leach were significant players.

At the end of each section describing the different series, Fuljenz inserts a chapter devoted to historical information about the times in which the coins were issued. For example, in the chapter on the life and times of the $10 Indian Head gold pieces, we learn, “In 1907 when the $10 Indian first began circulating, bubonic plague broke out in San Francisco, while in Seattle the now-famed Pike Place Market opened and Jim Casey founded UPS (United Parcel Service). James Spangler invented the Hoover vacuum cleaner.…” The Hoover name came from the first customer’s husband, William Hoover, who “bought into [the] company, became president, and renamed the company.”

Fuljenz’s book has an interesting section in which he gives seven places to quickly and easily sell your gold coins. For each place, he lists advantages and disadvantages. As an example, for hotel buyers the advantages are that “They’re in your locale and you get paid immediately.” As disadvantages, Fuljenz notes that they may pay as little as 20 perent of the coins’ actual values, the buyers may not provide an itemized receipt, and some of them have been “the subject of numerous customer complaints.”

More than half of the book is devoted to a date-by-date analysis of the three series. For example, about the 1911-D gold $2.50, Fuljenz writes, “The 1911-D is the rarest Indian Head Quarter Eagle in all grades combined.” As some of the factors making the 1911-D the most desirable coin in the series, he lists the following: It has lowest mintage in the series; it is the first Indian Head gold $2.50 made somewhere other than Philadelphia; and collectors of the time weren’t particularly focused on mintmarks, so many 1911-Ds weren’t saved.

In his analysis of the Indian Head gold $5 series, Fuljenz writes the following about the 1911-D: “While the similarly dated quarter eagle is a much better known issue, the 1911-D Half Eagle is a far rarer coin in high grades.… it must be considered among the prime rarities among all 20th century United States gold coinage in MS65 and higher grades.”

At the end of this book, Fuljenz has included a rather odd little chapter titled: “Identity Matters: A Coin By Any Other Name Still Shines As Brightly.” The chapter appears to be a discourse on the different names given to popularly collected coin series, such as the Mercury dime, which is really a Winged Liberty Head dime, and the Buffalo nickel, which should perhaps be called the Indian Head nickel.

If you have any interest in the three gold coin series that are the focus of this book, then it well deserves a place in your numismatic library. With a list price of just $14.95, the book is available postpaid from universalcoin.com, or call 1-800-459-2646.