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$10 Gold Type Page

       
THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
$10 GOLD PIECE

By Richard Giedroyc

The Act of April 2, 1792 authorized a U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and coin denominations through a gold $10 eagle with a weight of 270 grains of gold.

Copper and silver composition coins were produced beginning in 1793, however it wasn’t until 1795 that the first gold coins were produced. The problem wasn’t the supply of gold. The chief coiner and minter were each required to post a $10,000 bond prior to being allowed to produce gold coins. Special arrangements were finally arranged so the gold denominations could be introduced.

Virtually all the early gold coins struck through 1833 are scarce to rare.1 Mintage figures were low. The survival rate was also low. The purchasing power of the individual coins was tremendous, keeping most gold coins out of the hands of the average person. Coins of denominations as high as $10 were typically used for bank transfers rather than as pocket change or spending money.

As an example, in 1818 a farm laborer earned an average of $9.45 per month in the United States. An artisan working in Philadelphia earned an average of $11.16 for a six-day work week, while a laborer in the same city earned $6 for the same six-day work week.

By the time of the Civil War, in 1864, a carpenter working on the Erie Canal earned $13.50 for a six-day work week.

In 1900 a manufacturing worker was earning an average of $487 per year or about $9.37 per week.2 A coin of the eagle or $10 denomination wouldn’t be in the pocket of too many people, considering it represented the wages for a week at the time.

According to researcher Walter Breen, "During its entire history, 1795 to 1933, the eagle was coined in smaller quantities: just under 57.7 million pieces, compared to just under 79 million half eagles."3

In view of these statistics it shouldn’t come as a great surprise to learn that the initial production of eagle denominated coins of Sept. 17, 1795 was a mere 400 pieces.4 The 1795 to 1797 issue was designed by Robert Scot with a Capped Bust Right on the obverse and the "Small" Eagle on the reverse.

The reverse design was changed to depict the Great Seal of the United States (known to collectors today as the Heraldic Eagle), but the gold content remained at 17.5 grams of .9167 fine gold. The Heraldic Eagle reverse design was introduced during 1797 and continued through 1804.

There are several arrangements of the stars on the obverse of these early coins. In 1797 Mint Director Boudinot made a decision to stop adding a new star to the designs of coins every time a new state entered the union. From that point forward only 13 stars are depicted on the eagle.

Coinage of the denomination ceased in 1804 at the order of President Thomas Jefferson. The coins contained more gold than their face value. The coins were being hoarded, melted, exported or speculated on, but they did not circulate.5

In 1838 the weight of U.S. gold coins was legislated to be lighter, making the metal content of the coins agree with their legal tender face value. The danger of mass exports and speculation ended and the production of eagles was resumed.

The rather redundant Coronet portrait of Liberty facing left on the obverse by Christian Gobrecht was introduced that year. The design would be modified, but would continue primarily unchanged through 1907.

During the period of 1838 to 1907 there are varieties without a motto, with a motto, "first head," "second head," small or large letters, normal dates and more.

The motto "In God We Trust" was added in 1866 due to the lobbying of Rev. M.R. Watkinson during the Civil War. The Act of March 3, 1865 mandated the motto on all silver and gold coins of the United States.6

Collectors may want to note that the New Orleans Mint mark first appears on the eagle coins in 1842, the San Francisco Mint mark appearing beginning in 1856.

The New Orleans Mint mark does not appear after 1860 as the Mint was located in the deep South and was captured by the Confederacy during the Civil War. New Orleans’ minted eagle coins resumed in 1892 and continued to be produced through 1906 when the Mint closed.

Eagles were struck at the Carson City Mint between 1870 and 1893, while Denver began minting Coronet eagle coins in 1906, one year before the design for the denomination was changed.7

Mintage figures for the eagle denomination decreased after payment in specie was suspended during the Civil War, then increased following the Specie Resumption Act of 1878.8

The early part of the 20th century was a time of change for our money. President Theodore Roosevelt encouraged new coin designs. The Saint-Gaudens’ Indian Head design for the eagle was introduced in 1908. The depiction of Liberty wearing a feathered war bonnet was based on a figure of Nike or Victory from his Gen. Sherman Monument, in turn borrowed from a depiction of Victory in the temple of Zeus Soter at the ruins at the ancient Greek city-state of Pergamon.9

The eagle facing left on the reverse hints at the style of the imperial eagle on late Ptolemaic Egyptian and ancient Roman coins.

The 1907 issue was partially destroyed and recoined due to being artistically fine, but impractical for circulation due to the very high relief.10

Lower relief Indian Head eagle coins were produced by the Mints at Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco until the denomination ceased production by presidential executive order in 1933.

There is considerable confusion regarding the 1933 Indian Head Eagle. Some of the coins were legally released prior to the executive order stopping the release of all U.S. gold coins. Some collectors confuse these difficult to find coins with the 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle coin which is illegal to own since none of them were legally released prior to the same executive order.11

NOTES

1.  Q. David Bowers United States Coins by Design Types.
2.  Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970.
3.  Walter Breen Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins.
4.  Q. David Bowers United States Gold Coins, An illustrated History.
5.  Q. David Bowers The History of United States Coinage, As Illustrated by the Garrett Collection.
6.  Breen.
7.  Observations by the author.
8.  Breen.
9.  ibid.
10.  See the Sept. 19, 1907 letter from Director of the Mint Frank A. Leach to a Mr. Burns.
11.  Observations of the author.

 

Turban Head Eagle Obverse

Turban Head Eagle Reverse

Turban Head Type
(1795-1804)
 
Images courtesy of
Superior Stamp & Coin

1864 No Motto $10 Liberty Obverse

1864 No Motto $10 Liberty Reverse

Liberty Head Type,
No Motto on Reverse
(1838-1866)
 Images courtesy of
Heritage Numismatic Auctions, Inc.

 1869 Liberty Head Eagle Obverse

1869 Liberty Head Eagle Reverse

Liberty Head Type,
With Motto on Reverse
(1866-1907)
Images courtesy of
Heritage Numismatic Auctions, Inc.

1907 Indian Head Eagle Obverse

1907 Indian Head Eagle Reverse

Indian Head Type
(1907-1933)
Images courtesy of
Heritage Numismatic Auctions, Inc.

 

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