The $2.50 Indian Quarter Eagle is one of America’s most beautiful and unique gold coins. This smaller gold coin was produced from 1908-1929 and features a unique incused design—one that had never been attempted on a U.S. coin previously. It is also one of the scarcest 20th century gold coinage types; unlike the $5, $10 and $20 denominations, the Indian quarter eagle was struck in meager quantities.
Around 1907, Theodore Roosevelt demanded that America’s gold coinage be redesigned. The $2.50 gold piece was the poster child for why Roosevelt issued this command; after 65+ years of monotony a refresh was badly needed. While one could argue the $2.50 was most in need of change, it was actually the last of the four gold denominations to be transformed. The US Mint overhauled the $10 and $20 coins first in 1907 and then tackled the two smaller denominations in 1908.
The new 1907 $10 and $20 coins required a tremendous amount of adjustment and revision. Both coins went through a number of prototypes, trial runs and failed design adaptations. We can only assume that by 1908 the US Mint staff was exhausted and badly wanted a simpler redesign process. Once Bela Lyon Pratt’s $5 Indian motif was perfected for production, it was decided that the same design would appear on the $2.50 gold piece. Much to their relief, all the Mint had to do was adjust the size. The beautiful incused $5 Indian design, while innovative and unique, did not require much “tweaking” for the quarter eagle.
Like the $5 Indian, the $2.50 Indian was struck continuously from 1908-1915. With the advent of World War I, however, production halted and would not return until 1925. The $2.50 Indian was then phased out altogether in 1929 with the onset of the Great Depression. What little gold came into the U.S. Mint in the early 1930s was converted into $10 and $20 coins; the smaller denominations were completely ignored. Finally, all circulating United States gold coin production ended permanently in 1933 with Executive Order 6102. This directive, signed by Franklin Roosevelt, forbid the possession of gold coins or bullion in the United States.
FDR’s order resulted in enormous quantities of gold coins being melted. Many Americans exchanged whatever savings they held in gold for paper money or silver dollars. Whereas foreign banks (which were exempt from this order) were holding on to significant quantities of larger-denominated gold coins, most quarter eagles were held by ordinary citizens. As a result comparatively few quarter eagles survived the 1933 order compared to the $5, $10 and $20 denominations.