THE HISTORY OF THE
$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
Copper and silver composition coins were produced beginning in 1793,
however it wasnt until 1795 that the first gold coins were produced.
The problem wasnt 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 wouldnt 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
In view of these statistics it shouldnt 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
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
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
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
1. Q. David Bowers United
States Coins by Design Types.
2. Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times
3. Walter Breen Walter Breens Complete Encyclopedia of
U.S. and Colonial Coins.
4. Q. David Bowers United States Gold Coins, An illustrated
5. Q. David Bowers The History of United States Coinage, As
Illustrated by the Garrett Collection.
7. Observations by the author.
10. See the Sept. 19, 1907 letter from Director of the Mint Frank A.
Leach to a Mr. Burns.
11. Observations of the author.