This 1909-O Indian Head $5 gold coin represents the premier absolute rarity of its type, with an original mintage of a mere 34,200 pieces. The 1909 was not only the first New Orleans Mint Half Eagle delivered since 1894, but it was also the final gold coin struck at the southern facility, which ceased operations in 1909. Additionally, it is the only 20th-century gold issue of any denomination to bear the distinct "O" mintmark, and it is the only New Orleans Mint delivery in the Indian Half Eagle series.
The "O" designation is clearly on display in the present example, which boasts an exceptional quality grade of 65. In fact, just one gold coin of this type is graded higher; achieving an MS66 grade, it was sold at Heritage Auctions in 2011 for $690,000. Another example, graded MS65, is in the numismatics collection of the Smithsonian Institute.
Designed by Bela Lyon Pratt, the Indian Head half eagle gold coin made its first appearance in 1908; it was released alongside a quarter eagle that was identical in design. Slightly larger than the brand-new "Buffalo" nickel, it similarly featured a realistically styled portrait of a Native American, celebrating the nation's indigenous populations.
Unlike other coins, however, the Indian Head gold pieces were adorned by designs and inscriptions that sunk below the surface of the coins, rather than being raised. The design concept was approved of by none other than President Theodore Roosevelt himself, who had taken a great interest in the nation's coinage. In fact, the idea to recess the design was the brainchild of William Sturgis Bigelow, a Boston physician and art lover who was the president's close friend. With Roosevelt’s blessing, he engaged the noted sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt to design the coinage in incuse relief, and Pratt developed the now-historic design that pairs a Native American with an eagle in repose.