Collecting Indian Half Eagles 1908-1929

Posted on 11/21/2012

This challenging series requires patience and money to complete a Mint State set.

In our last article I discussed the very popular, Indian Quarter Eagle series. The Indian Quarter Eagle set consists of just fifteen coins, and can be completed with moderate effort and limited 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 much more often at the branch mints. This creates a wonderful and challenging series. There are several very common dates in most grades, and there are a few dates that are nearly impossible to find in any grade. A complete, Mint State set is possible, but it will require much more patience and money to achieve compared to their quarter eagle counterparts. I hope the following information will be helpful for anyone undertaking the task.

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. Her 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 would be expected, the 1908 issue was saved in quantity, and the date is one of the most often seen in Gem condition. 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, the 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. Most seen however are MS 60–62, and the date is actually quite scarce at the Gem level. None have been graded by NGC at the MS 66 level or better. 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 coin displaying 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.

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 much fewer bag marks than its Denver counterpart. Although the date is rare in MS 65 condition, three or four 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 seen well struck, but with more than average bag marks. Many were shipped to European banks, and are still finding there way home each week. Gem are another story however, and the date is somewhat rare at this level. Just a few have been graded as MS 66. 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 even a circulated example of the 1909–O can be quite challenging. Mint State coins are rare at any level, and command a substantial price. The 1900–O Half Eagle jumps significantly in price at every grade point. Because of this, many examples have 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. On 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 one sold at auction in 1998. The Smithsonian collection of Indian Head half Eagles is quite ordinary with exception of this date. The collection contains a Gem, MS 65 example, which 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. Less than 200 coins have been certified by NGC in all levels of Mint State. Most of these are seen in the MS 61–62 grade range, in fact the vast majority of them. NGC has only graded 16 coins in MS 63 or better! The finest is a single MS 66 example that has never appeared at auction. Most 1909–S Half eagles are well struck, but can sometimes be soft at the borders near the mint–mark. Circulated examples are fairly common and can be purchased for a modest premium, especially with gold at current levels.

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. 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 are about equal.

1910–D. Mintage 193,600. This date is seen quite often in low 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 MS 61 to MS 63 in grade. 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 phenomena. Anyone who handles gold coins regularly knows what I’m speaking about. The 1910–D Half Eagle is another classic condition rarity. NGC has none at the MS 65 level, and just one as MS 66. Incredibly, 2 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 becomes increasingly rare, and most seen are MS 60–63. Gem examples are extremely rare, and only 2 have been graded MS 65 or better by NGC. 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.

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