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Gold $2.50 had a Varied Past
By Tom LaMarre
Coins Magazine

The gold $2.50, also called a quarter eagle, has meant many different things to many different people. Government officials intended it to be a coin of convenience. Merchants saw it as a nuisance because gold $2.50s were often mistaken for new cents, which were similar in size and color if not design. A mistake could amount to a day's pay.

Counterfeiters saw the gold $2.50 as an opportunity to make a quick profit. They used molds, casts and dies to make gold $2.50 copies that ranged from crude to almost perfect. Sometimes they removed gold through the edge of genuine gold $2.50s, leaving only the shell, which they filled with some other, less valuable metal.

Those who could afford it saw the gold $2.50 as the ideal gift at holiday time. In the late 1800s, the practice was so common that one newspaper referred to gold $2.50s as "ballast" for Christmas stockings. Somehow, though, the description didn't do the coins justice.

To coin collectors, the gold $2.50 evokes thoughts of the 1848 "CAL." issue, an early commemorative, the rare 1854-S struck in the San Francisco Mint's first year of operation, and the highly prized 1841 Philadelphia gold $2.50, known to collectors as the "Little Princess."

The gold $2.50 was authorized by a 1792 law, but the first examples were not minted until 1796, using a Liberty Cap design by engraver Robert Scot. In 1808, the gold $2.50 received a new Turban Head design by John Reich, but it was a one-year type.

Gold $2.50 production did not resume 1821. At that time the gold $2.50 was reduced in size and given a revised Turban Head design. It lasted until 1834, when William Kneass modified the portrait and eagle to create the Classic Head gold $2.50 that remained in production through 1839.

The longest-running gold $2.50 was the Coronet type, designed by Christian Gobrecht. It was struck from 1840-1907, usually in small quantities, although annual production exceeded 1 million for a few years in the 1850s.

Sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt's Indian Head design marked an artistic pinnacle for the gold $2.50. By the time it made its debut in 1908, however, the gold $2.50 had become mainly a Christmas coin. Annual production and distribution usually peaked in the autumn, the coins were used as Christmas gifts, spent, and returned to banks by late January of the new year.

Production of Indian Head gold $2.50s was sporadic and, in the opinion of Treasury officials, a waste of time and resources in light of the limited use of the coins. Plans to eliminate the gold $2.50 had already been made when a series of executive orders ended the production and distribution of all gold coins in 1933. The last gold $2.50s were minted in 1929, around the time of the stock market crash that marked the beginning of the Great Depression.

Many gold $2.50s were melted. Others were used for jewelry purposes. In the 1950s, magazine ads offered a bracelet with several gold $2.50s for less than $100. Fortunately, collectors set aside many gold $2.50s.

Today, almost as interesting to acquire as the coins themselves are stories and information concerning gold $2.50s. Following are some historical highlights of the small gold denomination which had an impact far more significant that its mintage figures might suggest.

One-Fourth of an Eagle

The Act of April 2, 1792, authorized a gold $10 coin, which would be called an eagle. It also provided for other denominations, including a gold $2.50 piece to be known as a quarter eagle. However, the first gold $2.50 was not struck until Sept. 21, 1796. The Mint turned out fewer than 1,500 gold $2.50s during the remainder of the year.

Most 1796 gold $2.50s have no stars on the obverse. Some have 16 stars, one for each state. Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the 16th state on June 1, 1796. At that time it had a population of only 77,000.


Early U.S. gold coins, including the $2.50s, were often melted or shipped overseas. The reason was that Congress had insisted on putting too much gold in them and they were worth more than their face value.

Lawmakers finally addressed the problem with the Act of June 1834, which reduced the weight of all gold coins. To distinguish the new, lighter gold $2.50s and gold $5s, engraver William Kneass came up with the Classic Head design. The Sept. 9, 1834, issue of The Republican Compiler reported, "Half eagles of the new coinage have been for some time spreading over the country, and on the 3rd instant quarter eagles were issued from the Mint."

Most of the original mintage of 4,000 1834 Turban Head $2.50s was probably melted after the new standard went into effect. In February 1998, Numismatic News reported the simultaneous sale of three rare 1834 Turban Head gold $2.50s. Two were graded Mint State-61 by the Professional Colin Grading Service. One was graded Extremely Fine-40. The sale price was not disclosed but was said to be in six figures. Today, Coin Prices lists the 1834 Turban Head $2.50 at $12,000 in Very Fine-20, and $36,000 in MS-60.

The Little Princess

The national economy was in bad shape in 1841, which might explain why no gold $2.50s were struck for circulation that year. The Bank of the United States failed in February as paper money issued by state banks, some of it worthless, flooded the country. Many banks stopped paying out gold and silver coins.

There was no government bailout. President John Tyler wrote in his annual message to Congress in December 1841, "It would earnestly be desired that every bank note not possessing the means of redemption should follow the example of the late United States Bank of Pennsylvania and go into liquidation."

Although gold coins were not widely collected, an estimated 20 proof 1841 $2.50s were struck at the Philadelphia Mint. They were not listed in the Mint director's annual report.

Some of the rare gold pieces were later spent during time of need and apparently circulated for many years, judging from their worn surfaces.

In 1842, a drawing of an 1841 $2.50 appeared in A Manual of Gold and Silver Coins of All Nations, by Jacob Reese Eckfeldt and William E. Dubois. Mint Director James Ross Snowden classified the 1841 $2.50 as a pattern in A Description of Ancient and Modern Coins in the Cabinet Collection at the Mint of the United States, published in 1860.

An 1841 $2.50 crossed the auction block in the 1870s, but examples of the rarity were modestly priced for years. In 1890, a specimen described as Very Good was hammered down for only $2.90 - just 40 cents above face value.

The catalog for B. Max Mehl's sale of the Dunham Collection in 1941 provided the following description of an 1841 $2.50:

"1841 Quarter-Eagle or $2.50 Gold of the Philadelphia Mint. Finely milled edge, typical of the Philadelphia Mint gold coinage of these years, and not the coarse milling of the Charlotte Mint. The coin was originally struck as a proof and still maintains quite a bit of proof luster around the stars and legend, but has seen some circulation. It can easily be classed as extremely fine and only a shade from Uncirculated. I doubt if more than six specimens are known to exist. According to Mint records, no Quarter-Eagles were minted at the Philadelphia Mint in this year, but apparently some proofs were struck on order for the few collectors then in existence."

Norman Stack may have named the 1841 $2.50 the "Little Princess." Little because of its size, a princess because, despite its desirability, it did not enjoy the same status as the so-called "King of American Coins," the 1804 dollar. Also, the coronet worn by Liberty was suitable for a princess.

The catalog for Stack's sale of the Davis-Graves Collection in April 1954 said, "This 1841 Quarter Eagle is the only one available today and we like to call it the 'little Princess' in the coin rarities." It sold for $6,000.

However, it is also possible that dealer Abe Kosoff came up with the name in the 1940s. Kosoff, incidentally, bought an 1841 $2.50 in October 1962, as reported by the Long Beach, Calif., Press-Telegram.

The May 5, 1955, issue of the New York Times reported that an 1841 gold $2.50 named the "Little Princess," from the Cardinal Spellman Collection, would be exhibited publicly for the first time. So, it is clear that whoever originated the name, it was widely known and in common usage by the mid-1950s.

Coin Prices currently lists the 1841 $2.50 at values ranging from $48,000 in VF-20 to $96,000 in AU-50.

1848 'CAL.'

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 had a massive impact on the nation and its coinage. Countermarked $2.50s honored the event. Some collectors consider them the first U.S. commemorative coins.

News of the discovery was slow to reach the East. The New York Herald began printing articles about California gold in September 1848. In December, President Polk mentioned the great gold discovery in his annual message to Congress.

The same month, California Military Governor Col. R.B. Mason sent 228 ounces of gold to Secretary of War William L. Marcy, who forwarded it to the Philadelphia Mint. "As many may desire to procure specimens of coins made of the California gold, by exchanging other coin for it," Marcy wrote, "I would suggest that it be made into quarter eagles with a distinguishing mark on each."

The gold arrived at the Mint on Dec. 8, 1848. It averaged .894 fine. Some of the California gold was earmarked for congressional medals for Gens. Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor, who helped win the Mexican War. Scott's medal is now in the Smithsonian.

The remaining gold was used to strike the $2.50s suggested by Marcy. The distinguishing mark on each took the form of a countermark, the letters "CAL." punched into the reverse above the eagle.

The Feb. 24, 1849, issue of The Daily Union, published in Washington, D.C., reported:

"We understand that the amount of California gold deposited at the mint at Philadelphia for coinage up to Wednesday last was $58,522. The only coinage of California gold is quarter eagles, and amounts to $6,897.50. Of these, the pieces transmitted to John Y. Mason, esq., the Secretary of the Navy, were marked with the letters 'Cal.' over the head of the eagle. The other pieces, with a few exceptions, had no distinctive mark."

Only 1,389 countermarked gold $2.50s were struck. Government officials, and probably anyone else who knew of them and wanted to own one, could purchase the coins at face value.

The Jan. 5, 1908, issue of the Washington Post claimed that the letters "CAL." punched into the reverse of some 1848 $2.50s had long puzzled collectors. Finally, however, the Post said the mystery had been solved and that the coins had been struck from the first gold sent from California to Washington.

Estimates of the number of 1848 "CAL." $2.50s that have survived range from around 50 to 60 to something closer to 200. Coin Prices lists the 1848 "CAL." $2.50 at $8,000 in Fine-12, $26,000 in EF-40 and $50,000 in MS-60. Most of the survivors grade no better than EF-About Uncirculated.


The influx of prospectors and miners during the gold rush resulted in statehood for California in record time. Meanwhile, transporting California gold to the Philadelphia Mint was expensive and dangerous. In 1850, President Millard Fillmore recommended the establishment of a branch mint in San Francisco. Congress gave its approval in 1852, and in December 1853, the facilities of the United States Assay Office of Gold were closed for reorganization as the San Francisco Mint. In January 1854, Mint Director James Ross Snowden wrote:

"The branch Mint at San Francisco, California, it is expected, will be ready to receive deposits and commence operations about the 1st of March next. In consequence of a change in the grade of the street on which the building is being erected, more time will be consumed in its completion than was anticipated.

"The machinery, which was constructed in Philadelphia, arrived there in good condition on the 12th of December last. But a portion of the fixtures and apparatus had not arrived on the 30th of December, the date of my last advices, the vessel containing them having then been out 145 days.

"These circumstances will probably delay the commencement of coining operations until the time above stated. The coins to be issued by this branch of the Mint will be designated by the letter S on the reverse."

Located on Commercial Street, between Montgomery and Kearny, the San Francisco Mint struck only gold coins in its first year of operation, including 246 $2.50s. Decades passed before the first example received wide publicity. Today, only about a dozen 1854-S $2.50s are believed to survive.

Gold coin expert Edgar Adams, writing in his Official Premium List of United States Coins, published around 1909, said that he had found "no record of public sale" of an 1854-S gold $2.50, despite its reported mintage. In 1910, the first known example turned up in a western bank.

In the May 1911 issue of The Numismatist, Adams wrote, "&for the benefit of especially the quarter eagle collectors, the long-sought-for 1854 $2.50 gold piece of the San Francisco Mint has come to light, and is now in the collection of Mr. H.O. Granberg of Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

"This rare mint mark recently came to Mr. Granberg's notice, and of course was carefully examined by him. It was found to be authentic beyond a doubt. Mr. Hudson Chapman has also examined the coin, and has stated that it was the only specimen of the variety that had ever been located.

"The coin is in a good state of preservation, but has seen considerable circulation. According to the Mint report of 1854, exactly 246 gold $2.50s were struck at San Francisco, but all seem to have disappeared until this specimen came to notice.

"This was the first year of the operation of the San Francisco Mint, which produced very few coins for the reason there was a great scarcity of acids used for refining the gold and also of silver used to alloy the gold to bring it up to the United States coin standard. It was this scarcity of acids and silver that often compelled the branch Mint to suspend the coinage in the early 1850s, and accounts for the tremendous production of the private coining establishments of Wass, Moliter & Co., and Kellogg & Co."

Gradually, more specimens of the 1854-S $2.50 came to light. By the 1950s, at least five were known. Today there are about a dozen, all worn or damaged to some degree. No mint state survivors are known.

Somewhere along the line, two examples were used as jewelry. One shows traces of solder and damage where a loop was removed. The other has had a shank removed and may have been worn as an earring.

The finest-known 1854-S gold $2.50 is an AU-50 example formerly owned by Harry W. Bass Jr. Auctions by Bowers and Merena Inc. described it as "An American Numismatic Treasure" when it crossed the auction block in October 1999. It realized $135,700.


Counterfeiters and con artists loved the gold $2.50. Its small size made defects in workmanship or deficiency in weight difficult to detect. What's more, the usually limited production of genuine gold $2.50s meant that many people were unfamiliar with their appearance.

At a time when $2.50s were not a common sight, con artists tried to pass gold-plated dimes as gold $2.50 pieces. The Oct. 14, 1843, issue of The Sandusky Clarion reported:

"We have seen repeatedly of late, statements respecting the passing of dimes, which had undergone the electromagnetic process, for quarter eagles. A officer in one of our banks has made a discovery by which anyone may readily detect the spurious from the real article. The tips of the wings of the eagle on all our silver coins point down. On the gold coins they are precisely the reverse."

Elsewhere, at the same time, there were additional reports of counterfeit gold $2.50s. For example, the Oct. 7, 1843, issue of the Milwaukee Sentinel said, "Counterfeit quarter eagles of the United States coin are in circulation. Look out."

Another early report concerning fake gold $2.50s appeared in the Jan. 27, 1848, issue of the Fort Wayne Times and Peoples Press. It told of a dangerous counterfeit 1843-O gold $2.50 piece:

"It is full weight and good color, and was pronounced genuine by the best judges in Wall Street. It was sent to the Philadelphia Mint for examination, and after being subjected to the usual tests, it was there also pronounced a genuine quarter eagle."

The coin was said to have a "peculiar ring," but then, so did genuine 1843-O $2.50s. It was no wonder that so many people were fooled, because it turned out the questionable gold $2.50s had been struck from genuine but stolen dies.

The "counterfeit" 1843-O gold $2.50s became something of a legend. "Counterfeit quarter eagles have recently been taken at the New York post office," the Oct. 27, 1854, issue of The Daily Globe reported. "They are thus described in the Journal of Commerce: 'It is made from a genuine New Orleans Mint die, stolen some years since, and bears the 'O' under the talons of the eagle.' "

The 1843-O may have been the best of the illegitimate issues, but there were many other fraudulent $2.50s. An Ohio City man was arrested in June 1852. In his possession was a large quantity of counterfeit gold $2.50s and counterfeit notes of the State Bank of Ohio and the State Bank of Indiana.

In November 1860, the Racine Daily Journal warned that counterfeit $2.50s were in circulation, along with $5 notes of the Mechanics Bank of Newark and $2 notes of the International Bank of Portland, Maine.

Although several methods were used to produce counterfeit gold $2.50s, die-struck copies were the most deceptive. "The most important class of counterfeits are the imitations of our own coin," the April 16, 1850, issue of The Daily Sanduskian said, "and some have been lately brought to light worthy of special notice. The varieties include the eagle, half eagle and quarter eagle. The die is nearly perfect, for although a coiner might discover the impression is not quite so sharp and decided as a genuine coin, yet none but a practiced eye can detect any difference."

In January 1852, counterfeit gold $2.50s were found in circulation in Savannah, Ga.

Counterfeits were still a problem in 1907, the final year of the Liberty Head gold $2.50. The Aug. 29, 1907, issue of the Wisconsin Valley Ledger warned of altered gold $2.50s and other denominations. The "interior portion" of the coins had been removed through the edge reeding and replaced with a less valuable metal.

"When platinum is used to replace the gold extracted, the coin has the same weight as genuine," the newspaper said. "By this process, coins lose four-fifths of their value, as the original surfaces are only of paper thickness."

Concerning similar platinum-filled gold $2.50s in circulation a few years earlier, the Janesville Daily Gazette said, "With the platinum filling the ring is good, whereas with any other mixture of metals the ring is bad and the coin, provided it be of weight, is considerably thicker than the original."

Production Notes

By the early 1850s, there was a glut of gold. Silver coins disappeared from circulation. In 1853, the New York Times said that if the Philadelphia Mint struck enough gold $2.50s to keep up with the demand, the total coinage would be more than 5 or 7 million. The actual production figure that year was around 1.4 million pieces.

The Philadelphia Mint struck more than 1.2 million $2.50s in 1861. The Oct. 1, 1861, issue of the Daily Zanesville Courier said, "A small gold coinage having been lately needed by the Government, the Mint during the whole of last month and the first ten days of this month, was occupied three days each week coining half and quarter eagles, the remaining three days being employed on double eagles."

The production of gold $2.50s entailed as much expense as gold $20s.

"It is true," the Mint Director wrote in his report for 1856, "that nearly as much labor is expended in the manufacture of a gold dollar or a quarter eagle as of an eagle, or double eagle, and, in thus offering to make the smaller denominations, a large increase of work is assumed. But this consideration is met by another, that the division of labor and the present efficiency of the Mint establishment, especially when repairs at the Mint are fully completed, will enable us to meet such increase without additional expenditure."

Because of hoarding, gold and silver coins disappeared from circulation during the Civil War. Gold $2.50s remained in production, but output fell sharply. The Mint director wrote in his report for 1863:

"The coinage for this period has been much less than during the preceding year, although for that year it was much below former years. The same causes that contributed to reduce the coinage of 1862 are still in operation; and we cannot hope for any material increase until the rebellion is crushed, peace restored, and consequent and increasing prosperity gladden our country."

Annual output of $2.50s never again reached the 1 million mark. From 1880-1910, $2.50s were struck exclusively at the Philadelphia Mint.

In 1893, Sen. Faulkner proposed that all paper money under the denomination of $10 be retired. If the measure had passed, the notes would have been replaced by silver dollars, gold $5s and gold $2.50s. However, nothing came of the idea.

In 1895, only about 6,000 $2.50s were minted. The same year, the Newark Daily Advocate reported that the knobs on the lockers of the yacht Mary Jane Tweed were decorated with $2.50s.

Branch Mints

Among the most highly prized $2.50s are those struck at the branch mints in Charlotte, North Carolina and Dahlonega, Georgia, distinguished by a "C" or "D" mintmark.

The Dahlonega Mint was built in 1837 and operated until it was seized by the Confederates in 1861. It produced gold coins exceeding $6 million in face value, including nearly 200,000 gold $2.50s.

Much later, the Denver Mint used a "D" mintmark, but it only appeared on gold $2.50s in 1911, 1914 and 1925.

Gold was discovered in the Charlotte area in the 1790s. An Act of March 3, 1835, provided for the Charlotte Mint. It went into operation in 1838 and struck gold $2.50s intermittently from then until it closed in 1860.

Gold $2.50s were produced at New Orleans from 1839 to 1857, and at San Francisco from 1854 to 1879. The Carson City Mint never struck gold $2.50s.

Writing in 1893, A.G. Heaton listed the rarest branch mint gold $2.50s as the 1841-O, the 1852-1858-D issues, the 1860-D and 1861-D, the 1850-C, 1852-C, 1854-C, 1855-C, 1859-C and the 1870-S.

Heaton also wrote that" - if collectors or numismatic associations in New Orleans, San Francisco, Carson City, Charlotte and Dahlonega, or their vicinity, who have access to bank deposits, should begin to collect sets of the mintage in their sections, as well as chance scarce pieces of others, and should establish correspondence and exchange, one might soon hear of far advanced gold Mint Mark collections which would be an honor to the enterprising numismatists possessing them."

However, the advice was not heeded, and many rarities were melted because collectors were not aware of them or could not afford to set them aside, even at a time when premiums were modest.

A Lucky Find

The Jan. 18, 1867, issue of the Morning Oregonian reported the unearthing of a valuable keg of coins thought to have been buried during the Civil War. "The keg contained a thousand dollars in eagles, $650 in half eagles, $350 in quarter eagles and $101 in silver," according to the article. "There was nothing in or on the keg to indicate who buried it there."

Golden Anniversary

In 1902, hundreds of guests attended a party in Brooklyn. They celebrated a golden anniversary, a silver anniversary and a wedding, involving three generations of one family. The main gift was a large wedding cake. Embedded in the icing were 50 gold $2.50s arranged to form the dates 1852 and 1902.

A Pet Coin

In 1908, a retired Connecticut banker, Joseph Mitchelson, was said to have the most complete collection of gold $2.50s outside the Mint, the result of a long hunt for what he regarded as his pet coin.

A Christmas Tradition

The practice of using gold coins as Christmas gifts really took off in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Smaller denominations like the gold $2.50 and the gold $5 were usually the most popular.

During a two-week period in December 1900, the New York City subtreasury paid out a daily average of $150,000 in gold coins, ranging from gold $2.50s to gold $20s. It turned out to be gold Christmas in New York instead of a white one, as what was described as a winter heat wave hit the city. Shoppers wore short-sleeve shirts, rode in open streetcars and perspired as they carried sleds and ice skates on the escalators in department stores. Ice cream sodas were in demand and electric fans were turned on for the first time in weeks. It was the eighth consecutive year that New York City did not have a white Christmas.

John D. Rockefeller was known for giving away dimes to people he met. In December 1901, however, the Rockefeller family and friends distributed gold $10s and gold $2.50s to the needy in Westchester, N.Y.

In December 1926, with the annual holiday gold rush in full swing, bags of gold $2.50s were leaving the vaults of Federal Reserve Banks, destined for banks throughout the country.

In December 1927, Time magazine reported there would not be enough gold $2.50s during Christmas week. The National Association of Mutual Savings Banks had sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon demanding the coins, but he ignored it. The general public may not have realized it, but the gold $2.50 Christmas tradition was nearing its end.

Pratt's Masterpiece

The gold $2.50 reached an artistic peak when it received a new design by sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt in 1908. Chief Thundercloud, a former U.S. Army scout who had toured Europe with Buffalo Bill, was the model for the obverse portrait. The American Journal of Numismatics said the likeness was that of "an Indian chieftain whose stern countenance indicates that he is ready for any emergency which may arise."

The standing eagle on the reverse was adapted from Augustus Saint-Gaudens' gold $10 piece, although it was not an exact copy. The American Journal of Numismatics said that "the neck is slightly broader, and the head larger in proportion, than on the recent Eagles∧ the clump of arrows below his talons seems to be somewhat thicker."

The debut of the Indian Head design coincided with a surge in gold $2.50 production. For a while, at least, it looked like the gold $2.50 might even become a mainstream coin, if for no other reason than its popularity during the Christmas season.

It was probably no coincidence that the first Indian Head gold $2.50s - and gold $5s with the same design - were released just in time for Christmas gift-giving. Demand for the new gold pieces was strong, but initial supplies were limited. The December 1908 issue of Mehl's Numismatic Monthly, published by Fort Worth, Texas dealer B. Max Mehl, reported:

"Our New York correspondent informs us that the new $2.50 and $5 gold pieces have made their appearance in that city. Every unkind thing that was said about the Saint-Gaudens coins when the first $20 pieces were issued last fall, were said about the new $2.50 and $5 pieces issued from the New York subtreasury. The fault found with the early coins, that they would not stack readily, is not found this time.

"The new coins have been declared inartistic and lacking in everything but intrinsic value and purchasing power. And that they look less like real money than anything since the tokens current during the Civil War.

"In the new coins the eagle on the reverse side is crowded between the 'E Pluribus Unum' on one side and 'In God We Trust' on the other, and with the usual inscription above and below, is cramped for room. The whole effect of this side is essentially Egyptian."

The so-called Egyptian effect was the result of the coins' sunken design. Anything different or innovative usually attracts criticism, and the Indian Head gold coins were not exception. The American Journal of Numismatics called them "a remarkable departure" but then tore them apart in no uncertain terms, finding them impractical, unhygienic and unattractive:

"The appearance of the new half and quarter eagles has been somewhat of a surprise to collectors in several ways. The facts that the peculiar features in the treatment of the design had been finally approved, the preparation of the dies completed, and the coinage of the new issues begun, have received so little notice from the omniscient reporters, that the pieces came almost unheralded, and in good season for those who were disposed to use them for Christmas gifts. But the remarkable departure from previous issues, in the elevation of the field, the use of incused lines about the devices, the incused letters and stars, was not so gratifying. -

"The flat surface gives the coins a crude and unfinished appearance. The field of a freshly minted piece has little or no luster, either on obverse or reverse, its only brilliancy is derived from the reflected lights of the devices. Others beside collectors of proof sets may consider this a blemish. There is no milling, and it is claimed that they 'can therefore be readily piled; (the bank tellers dispute this statement), but that end could have been accomplished while following Saint-Gaudens designs, by reducing the devices, and slightly broadening and adding to the height of the milling. -

"We have yet to see any words of commendation of the new pieces from a recognized authority, and it is to be hoped that if the types of the new half and quarter eagles are to be retained, the Mint officials will follow the ancient examples, discard the incused methods, and lower the fields, at the same time raising the rims and widening them, if necessary to preserve the types from attrition, or to enable the pieces to be piled."

New York coin dealer Thomas Elder had some of the sharpest words for the Indian Head gold pieces. "There is room for considerable criticism concerning both the utility and appearance of the Bela L. Pratt half and quarter eagles," he wrote in December 1914. "The chief designs of the Indian and the eagle are in themselves well done, but the lettering, stars and figures are incuse, or sunken below the surface of the coin. The rest of the field is in itself dull, even rough. As a result, the coin presents a dull, indefinite appearance.

"As they become worn they become more crude looking. It is necessary to scan them closely in order to determine their denomination and to make certain that they have not been mutilated. The old coins, with the head of Liberty, were raw examples of the engraver's art, but the bank teller, who is usually more practical than artistic, will tell you that he prefers them to the new ones."

Samuel H. Chapman, a Philadelphia coin dealer, claimed Pratt's Indian Head gold coins were "an utterly miserable, hideous production" and "a disgrace to our country." Their incused design would turn out to be a "receptacle for dirt" and "conveyor of disease," Chapman predicted.

Although Chapman described the coins as "the most unhygienic ever issued," they remained in production. Annual mintages usually amounted to several hundred thousand pieces. Production of gold $2.50s was suspended in 1916 and did not resume until 1925. By then, the gold $2.50 stockpile had been depleted and most dates were selling for more than face value.


Calls for the elimination of the gold $2.50 were being made more than half a century before production was, in fact, stopped. The Feb. 17, 1876, issue of the Weekly Nevada State Journal reported that a bill had been introduced to abolish the coinage of gold $2.50, $3 and $1 pieces. "The object is to widen the field for silver coin," the newspaper explained.

But it wasn't until 1889 that a law eliminated the gold dollar and gold $3 piece, and even then the gold $2.50 was left intact.

In 1910, the Mint director announced his intention to suspend production of gold $2.50s. He changed his mind when unexpected demand cleaned out the existing stockpile. Ironically, word of the planned suspension may have triggered a run on the coins at banks.

"During 1910 there was a liberal production of gold coins of all denominations," The Numismatist later reported, "including 492,682 pieces of the $2.50 denomination. Present indications are that there will not be any scarce varieties of U.S. coins dated 1910."

No gold $2.50s were minted from 1916-1924. Production of the denomination resumed in 1925, including the first and only gold $2.50s with Denver's "D" mintmark.

In 1930, Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon asked Congress to end the production of gold $2.50s for good. According to Mellon, gold was needed for credit, not for the striking of coins that disappeared from circulation as quickly as they were struck.

Mellon needn't have bothered to badger the politicians. No gold $2.50s were minted after 1929. In 1933, a series of executive orders ended the production and distribution of all gold coins. One of those orders required people to turn in "common" gold coins, but gold $2.50s of all years were excluded because of their numismatic value.

For more than a century, the gold $2.50 had survived changing artistic trends and fluctuating gold prices. But it could not weather the economic depression and the overriding need for gold for national credit. In the end, the gold $2.50 found its greatest role as a treasured collector coin, providing exceptional value and history.


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