Jeff Garrett: Tips for Collecting Indian Half Eagles, Part I
Posted on 6/23/2022
Recently, I discussed the very popular Indian Quarter Eagle series. The Indian Quarter Eagle set consists of just 15 coins and can be completed with moderate effort and modest funds.
This week, I will start with a date-by-date analysis of the Indian Half Eagle series. The set has the same date range (1908-1929), but the coins were struck more often at the branch Mints. This creates a wonderful and challenging series. There are several very common dates in most grades, and a few dates are very difficult to find in any grade.
A complete Mint State set is possible, but it will require much more patience and a lot of money to achieve. In circulated grades, the rare issues of the 1909-O and 1929 are the only ones that cost significant sums. The remainder of the dates can be purchased for under $1,000 in circulated grades. I hope the following information will be helpful for anyone undertaking the task of assembling a set, regardless of the grade.
In the last couple of years, at least one very large hoard of United States gold has begun to be distributed. These large groups of US gold have drastically changed the population reports for many dates. Most of the Indian Half Eagles from the hoards are AU or lower Mint State. New examples of Choice or Gem Indian Half Eagles rarely surface.
INDIAN HALF EAGLES 1908-1910
1908, mintage: 577,845
The Indian Head Quarter Eagle and Half Eagle were both designed by Bela Lyon Pratt. Pratt was a protégé of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and was an outsider to the US Mint establishment. His incused design sunk the features below the surface, as opposed to being raised by the dies. The high points for the new design actually became the fields and grading this series can be somewhat difficult.
As expected, the 1908 issue was saved in quantity, and the date is one of the most often seen in Gem condition. NGC has graded one example of the date as MS 68! Unfortunately, it has never appeared at a public auction. The color for the 1908 issue is often seen in green-gold shades. Because of the quality and the number of coins saved for the year, 1908 is an excellent Type coin for the series.
1908-D, mintage: 148,000
Most of the 1908-D Half Eagles seen are well struck but feature grainy luster. Many are very baggy as well, having been stored and transported in bags over the years. The date still shows up in shipments from European banks regularly. However, most seen are MS 60 to MS 62, and the date is quite scarce at the Gem level. None have been graded by NGC at the MS 66 level or better, but another grading service has certified one as MS 67. With only six coins certified by NGC as MS 65, the 1908-D Half Eagle is actually one of the rarest in the series in Gem condition. The issue is a classic “condition rarity.”
1908-S, mintage: 82,000
This date is very popular with collectors and investors due to the low mintage. The population reports would lead one to believe that the 1908-S Half Eagle is easy to find. This is not true, as collectors have snapped up the limited number of coins that have been graded over the years. Mint State examples are seen occasionally, and it is speculated that most of these originated from a hoard attributed to Virgil Brand. In the 1980s, MTB Bank in New York City purchased an undisclosed number of the issue as bullion.
The coins were sold over the years, and many of the amazing Gems seen are from this group. The date is also unusual for the abundant copper stains seen on many examples. I have seen extreme cases, with over half the coins displaying a deep, golden-red color. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I actually think the stains enhance the appearance of these unusual coins. The Smithsonian collection contains an Extremely Fine example, no doubt, because the collection was formed before the hoard became available. A single example has been certified by NGC as MS 68.
1909, mintage: 627,060
As would be expected from the large mintage, this issue can be found with little trouble in most grades. The average example is lustrous, with yellow-gold colorations. The Philadelphia issue is usually seen with fewer bag marks than its Denver counterpart. Although the date is rare in MS 65 condition, two or three examples cross the auction block each year. Superb examples are very rare and only a few have been graded MS 66 or higher. At some point in the past, a counterfeiter produced a quantity of high-quality fakes of this issue. These counterfeits are some of the best I have seen for the series. Some are so deceptive that experts have been known to disagree over a coin. Buying a certified example of this issue is a must.
1909-D, mintage: 3,423,560
As would be expected from the massive mintage, the 1909-D Half Eagle is the most common for the series. The date is usually well-struck but with more than average bag marks. Many were shipped to European banks and are still finding their way home. Gems are another story; the date is somewhat rare at this level. Just a few have been graded as MS 66, with one sold at auction recently. The issue is quite popular as a Type coin because of its affordability.
1909-O, mintage: 34,200
The 1909-O Half Eagle is one of the key dates for the series and is extremely popular. Finding a 1909-O, even a circulated example, can be quite challenging. Mint State coins are rare at any level and command a substantial price. The 1909-O Half Eagle jumps significantly in price at every grade point. Because of this, many examples have been re-submitted repeatedly over the years, and many are at the maximum possible level for the issue.
The population reports are also suspect, as many of the grading tags were not returned. For low-grade examples, be sure that the mint-mark is clear and visible. Just a couple of examples for the date have been certified at the Gem level, and the last NGC example sold at auction in 1998. The Smithsonian collection of Indian Head Half Eagles is quite ordinary except for this date. The collection contains a Gem (MS 65) example and was part of the Lilly donation in 1966.
1909-S, mintage: 297,200
The 1909-S Indian Half Eagle is one of the rarest dates of the series in Mint State. Fewer than 275 coins have been certified by NGC in all levels of Mint State. The vast majority of them are seen in the MS 61 and MS 62 grade range. NGC has only graded 18 coins in MS 63 or better! The finest example is a single MS 66 that has never appeared at auction. Most 1909-S Half Eagles are well struck but can sometimes be soft at the borders near the mintmark. Circulated examples are fairly common and can be purchased for a modest premium, especially with gold at current levels. This is one of the issues that has been showing up in circulated grades from recent European hoards.
1910, mintage: 604,000
The 1910 Indian Half Eagle is fairly common in grades up to MS 63. Choice examples can be difficult to locate, and relatively few have been graded as Gem. The finest grade seen for the date is MS 66, with 3 coins having been graded by NGC, none of which have sold at auction since 2009. The average example is well struck with moderate to subpar luster. The mintage for the 1909 and 1910 Half Eagles is very close, and the rarity for the two is about equal.
1910-D, mintage: 193,600
This date is seen quite often in average Mint State condition. Most are probably from a hoard that reportedly surfaced in Europe in 1979. The hoard contained several hundred coins, but most were graded MS 61 to MS 63. Because of the extensive travel back and forth from Europe, this date is plagued by bag marks. The date is also seen with what is sometimes called “roll dirt.” The coins accumulate some sort of dark or black surface contamination. I’m not sure what causes these this phenomenon. Anyone who handles gold coins regularly knows what I’m speaking about. The 1910-D Half Eagle is another classic condition rarity. NGC has two at the MS 65 level and just one at MS 66. Incredibly, two coins have been certified as MS 67, one of which sold for $44,850 in 2004. I doubt either of these came from the 1979 hoard mentioned above.
1910-S, mintage: 770,200
The 1910-S Half Eagle is another date that is quite difficult to locate in any form of Mint State. The issue has become increasingly rare, and most seen are MS 60 to MS 63. This date is among the several that have been surfacing from recent finds, most of which grade AU 55 to MS 61. Gem examples are extremely rare, and only one has been graded MS 65 or better by NGC. This lone MS 65 sold for about $50,000 in 2020. The average 1910-S is well struck, with somewhat subdued luster. This is another issue that soars in price at every grade level. Remember to keep this in mind when studying the population reports.
Next time, I will conclude the set with issues 1911 through 1929.
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