100 Greatest U.S. Coins Series: MCMVII (1907) Indian Head Double Eagle Pattern

“I think our coinage is artistically of atrocious hideousness. Would it be possible, without asking permission of Congress, to employ a man like Saint-Gaudens to give us a coinage that would have some beauty?” Would it surprise you to know those words came from then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt? Most would say no in the numismatic business and then there are those individuals who do not know how active the eventual President of the United States was in United States coinage. So knowing all of this, it is no surprise that coins and coin designs that the President was fond and very passionate about would not only make a top 100 list but make a top-five list.

Continuing on in our series dissecting the top 100 entries for the Whitman Publishing publication of the Greatest United States Coins, we take a look at a pattern coin that was heavily influenced by President Theodore Roosevelt. With author Jeff Garrett in the lead with help from Ron Guth, we will explore how this highly collectible pattern came to be in an era where United States coinage was deemed as “atrocious hideousness.”

#5 - MCMVII (1907) Indian Head Double Eagle Pattern

Years before this coin, or pattern really, came to fruition, then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt had become associated with well-known sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Roosevelt also had a fascination with ancient Greek coinage at the time that thrived on beauty and high relief surfaces. His ideas of beauty and the current coinage designs at the time did not meet together to form what he thought was good enough. Once again, he did not believe it had any artistic merit. Roosevelt even went as far as to write to the Secretary of the Treasury during his Vice Presidency the above beginning quote. He ultimately wanted to change the entire face of U.S. coinage but the difficulty came when they attempted to modify minting capabilities to the more modern high relief technique that he wanted. In this result, Saint-Gaudens, who Roosevelt would eventually commission, would turn his focus to the eagle and double eagle designs.

According to many back and forth correspondences between Roosevelt and Saint-Gaudens, the president had a lot to do with the design process. The obverse of the pattern coin features Liberty in a feathered headdress facing left. Surrounded by 13 stars, the word “LIBERTY” is seen in large letters beneath the profile. The reverse depicts an eagle in flight above a rising sun. The date, which is in Roman numerals, reads “MCMVII” at the very bottom of the design. While Saint-Gaudens preferred this design with the Indian Head design, it was ultimately decided that the full-length figure of Liberty be chosen. In the last correspondence written to Roosevelt, the artist wrote, “The majority of the people that I show the work to evidently prefer with you the figure of Liberty to the head of Liberty and that I shall not consider any further on the twenty-dollar gold coin.” However, at the request of Saint-Gaudens, one single coin was struck with the Indian Head design for comparison.

After a number of purchases throughout the business and trades along the way, the single coin has landed in the hands of a major collector of Saint-Gaudens coinage. The coin has not been seen in public for nearly 30 years. Authors explain that with the highly prized value numismatically speaking and monetarily speaking on the coin, that is the sole reason that the coin has not landed at the top of the list and instead got put at the fifth position.

In 1960, the single rare pattern coin was valued at $25,000 in Gem Proof. In this last edition (4th), it has raised to $20,000,000.