In 1908 the quarter eagle motif was changed to feature the portrait of an American Indian, said to have been the first real native American ever shown on a coin. Earlier representations, including the Indian cent, were stylistic and did not represent actual people. Indeed, the Indian cent (minted 1859-1909) represented a woman in a war bonnet, a situation inconsistent with ethnology. Boston sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt, a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, was given the task of redesigning the quarter eagle and half eagle, to complete the work of Saint-Gaudens, who had died of cancer the year before.
The same Indian design was used for the half eagle as well. The new Indian quarter eagle and half eagle of 1908 represented an innovation in American coinage. The designs were incuse or inset in the surface, with the field of the coin, normally the lowest part, being in the present instance the highest part. Incuse coins had been made in ancient times, but never before in circulating United States issues. Curiously and inconsistently, Indian quarter eagles and half eagles struck at Denver and San Francisco (half eagles, but not quarter eagles, were struck at New Orleans as well), with mintmarks, bore the mintmark raised on the coin - extending above the field. Apparently it was too much trouble to have the mintmark incuse. This is probably just as well, for one can imagine a proliferation of phony mintmarks made for collectors, by punching D and S letters into the fields of Philadelphia Mint coins!
Indian quarter eagles were produced intermittently from 1908 through 1929. Some 15 different varieties were coined, the scarcest of which by far is the 1911-D, of which just 55,680 were minted, the only issue to be produced in a quantity of fewer than several hundred thousand pieces. Really choice Uncirculated Indian quarter eagles are hard to find, particularly among the earlier dates, for the nature of the design was such that even a small amount of handling tended to emphasize nicks and marks on the surface.
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