OverviewThe $5 Indian Head is one of two coins designed by sculptor Bela Lyon Pratt at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt. Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow, a good friend of the president, recommended Pratt, who had once been a student of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The $5 Indian Head is smaller and less impressive than the coins of Saint-Gaudens, but the Pratt designs are more innovative and daring.
DesignThe obverse (front) shows a Native American chief, the first true Native American ever to appear on United States coinage. Before, Caucasian models dressed in native attire were used. The chief on the Indian Head wears a full-feathered headdress with “Liberty” above the headband. The issue date and 13 stars circle him.The reverse has a bald eagle among olive branches, surrounded by “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” “IN GOD WE TRUST” and the denomination.
MintingThe $5 and $2.50 Indian Head gold coins are the first (and only) U.S. gold coins to use the incuse relief technique, giving the lettering and design elements a sunken look on a flat plane. This technique caused controversy when the coin was released because many wrongly believed the design grooves would spread germs.