had a Varied Past
By Tom LaMarre
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
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
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.
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
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
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
"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
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
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.