Best Buy: 1908 Gold ‘Half Eagle’ Two Coin Set - $5 Liberty & $5 Indian
1908 was a year of transition for U.S. minted coins. Some of the most beautiful and influential coins of our time were designed and issued for the first time that year. Just think about where these coins were, and who owned them over 100 years ago. What stories could they tell?
Throughout American history, gold coins have played an important role. While many larger denomination coins were used for large transactions or bank to bank transfers, smaller gold coins, like the ones in this set, were the backbone of trade throughout the early 1900’s. These ‘Half Eagles’ were the coins of the everyday people, used to settle a debt, pay for rent and buy everyday necessities.
This month, we have put together a small offering of (29) – 1908 gold ‘Half Eagle’ Two Coin Sets - $5 Liberty & $5 Indian.
History and Background
Theodore Roosevelt is remembered as a colorful president with an exuberant personality and a wide range of interests. In addition to being a politician, Roosevelt was also an author, world traveler, naturalist and something of a renaissance man. From a numismatic standpoint, no other president took as much interest in the appearance of our currency. Not since the days of Washington and Jefferson did a president become so involved in our country’s coinage.
Roosevelt felt America’s gold coinage had become stale in design. When Roosevelt took office, the venerable Liberty motif had been used for the $2.50, $5, $10, and $20 denominations for many decades. For the $5 Half Eagle, the design was left essentially untouched after 1839. Aside from some minor tweaks—like the inclusion of ‘In God We Trust’ in 1866—the design saw no modification from 1839 through 1908.
During the $5 Liberty Half Eagle’s lifespan, it became a staple of everyday American commerce. Whereas the $10 Eagle and $20 Double Eagle were more likely to be used in large transactions or bank transfers, $5 Half Eagles were used by citizens for larger payments like wages and rent. Of the four major U.S. gold denominations, the Half Eagle was likely the most widely circulated.
Roosevelt planned on overhauling all four U.S. gold denominations in 1907, but tragedy prevented this from happening. World-renowned sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who was commissioned for all four redesigns, passed away in 1907 before completing the project. Saint-Gaudens managed to leave prototypes for the $10 Eagle and $20 Double Eagle before his death, but the $2.50 and $5 coins were left unfinished.
The Philadelphia Mint begged Roosevelt to let them handle the two remaining denominations. Saint-Gaudens’ designs for the $10 and $20 pieces were, in a nutshell, torturous to execute. While stunningly beautiful, they were a nightmare to mint from a technical and production standpoint. As one would expect from an artist, Saint-Gaudens was primarily concerned with the coins’ appearance, not how easy they would be to strike.
Roosevelt fought back. He was disappointed with the Mint’s most recent designs. He did not feel their staff possessed sufficient artistic talent or creativity. Just as Roosevelt cared deeply about how America was perceived on the international stage, he also believed our coinage should display powerful, symbolic and beautiful designs. Roosevelt wanted new motifs that represented a major departure from the status quo.
With Saint-Gaudens no longer an option for the two remaining gold coins, Roosevelt turned to one of his protégés, Bela Lyon Pratt. The New England-based sculptor already had an impressive resume of sculptures and architectural details, including plaques and figures in Washington, D.C. Roosevelt trusted Pratt would understand the spirit of what he was trying to accomplish and continue Saint-Gaudens’ influence in coin design.
Pratt did not fail in his mission. His proposed designs for the $2.50 and $5 denominations were unique and innovative. Unlike any other U.S. coin ever produced, his Indian Head coin motif included incused design features. All other U.S. coins had raised rims and design features, but Pratt instead had the design elements sunken into the coin’s surface.
Pratt’s design was unquestionably beautiful and exceptionally attractive, but concerns emerged about the coin’s practicality. Bankers worried the coins would not stack properly. Citizens feared germs and dirt would collect in the coin’s crevices; and some believed the Native American looked unhealthy, if not emaciated! All of these beliefs proved untrue.
The $5 Indian Head Half Eagle was produced in relatively strong numbers from 1908 through 1915, but mintages dropped considerably thereafter. A small quantity was produced in 1916 and 1929, but then the denomination was discontinued altogether (along with all other U.S. gold coins) in 1933.
Just as one Roosevelt led to the creation of the $5 Indian Head Eagle, another ordered the coin’s termination.
The Transitional 1908 Coin-Set
By the summer of 1907, the new Saint-Gaudens-designed $10 and $20 pieces were almost ready for mass production. The old Liberty designs were discontinued mid-year as the $10 Indian and $20 ‘Saints’ were introduced to circulation. The new $2.50 and $5 coins, as mentioned earlier, were delayed due to Saint-Gaudens’ death.
The U.S. Mint already had a decent number of excess $2.50 Liberties on hand, so they were able to cease production of the design in 1907 and wait for the Indian Head version to be released in 1908. Demand for $5 Half Eagles, meanwhile, remained extremely strong. The Mint could not afford to halt production and wait for the Indian Head dies to be ready, so they continued to strike the venerable Liberty design through 1908. This is why the $5 Half Eagle was the only denomination to carry the Liberty design in 1908.
Given the U.S. Mint was forced to split its production capacity between two designs, both the 1908 Liberty and 1908 Indian issues are scarcer dates. Depending on grade, the 1908 Liberty and Indian Half Eagles are two to five times rarer than the most common date, as they are the last year of the $5 Liberty and first year of the $5 Indian.
Despite the fact these 1908 Half Eagles are fascinating transitional issues and better dates, they somehow trade for extremely reasonable premiums in today’s market. In MS62 through MS64, the 1908 Liberty and 1908 Indian Half Eagles are commanding just a 10-20% premium compared to generic dates. These coins carry numismatic importance as Last Year/First Year issues and are many times rarer than common dates… yet they sell for a negligible premium.
After canvassing the market for 1908 Half Eagles, we were able to assemble a small number of sets in MS62 and MS63 along with a select few sets in MS64.
These sets are a great way to own multiple Uncirculated vintage gold coins with a great story for a relatively low price. It’s also worth noting there are very few transitional coin sets in American numismatics—many are wildly expensive and/or impossible to find in Uncirculated condition.
In summary, these 1908 two-coin transitional sets combine rarity, history and numismatic significance. Each set pairs the long-running classic $5 Liberty with the innovative and creatively formatted $5 Indian. These Last Year and First Year issues should command a sizeable premium for multiple reasons, yet in this market, somehow they do not. Right now, a better story or a better value in the U.S. gold market cannot be found!
We have 29 sets available. All coins are certified by either NGC or PCGS. We are offering them (delivered) at the following prices.*
1908 Gold ‘Half Eagle’ Two Coin Set - $5 Liberty & $5 Indian
|Grade||# of sets available||Price*|
|MS62||14||Call for price & availability|
|MS63||10||Call for price & availability|
|MS64||5||Call for price & availability|
This is the delivered price.* There is no additional cost for shipping, handling or insurance. While supplies last, the price you see is the price you pay.
Call 800-831-0007 or email me today to purchase your coins and to take advantage of this low price before the market discovers the price anomaly.
*Prices are subject to change based upon product availability and due to market fluctuation.