1909 $5 PR67 NGC. Norwich, Connecticut, native Bela Lyon Pratt's father was a Yale graduate,...
Exemplary PR67 1909 Half Eagle1909 $5 PR67 NGC. Norwich, Connecticut, native Bela Lyon Pratt's father was a Yale graduate, and in 1883, at the age of only 16, the younger Pratt began study at the Yale University School of Fine Arts. Any Yalie will recognize one of Pratt's works, a life-size statue of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale that stands on Yale's Old Campus outside Connecticut Hall. At age 19, Pratt began study at the Art Students League of New York, where his teachers included Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Saint-Gaudens became Pratt's mentor, as well as a role model for the younger sculptor.
After Saint-Gaudens' untimely death from cancer in August 1907, a friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, art lover and Boston Brahmin William Sturgis Bigelow, enlisted Pratt to assist with designs for the quarter eagle and half eagle. Those designs featured, for the obverse, an Indian chief wearing a ceremonial headdress, and for the reverse an eagle in repose, perched upon a fasces and an olive branch, the intertwined symbols of preparedness and peace. The design is in an incuse or intaglio style (below the surface of the coin) never before contemplated for American coinage.
Although a single matte proof piece is known for this year, most of the 1909-dated proofs were struck in the lighter Roman gold or satin finish, a bold contrast from the dark matte finish of 1908. A total of 77 pieces were recorded with the Roman gold surface treatment, making this the lowest-mintage proof issue of the Indian Head series, with the sole exception of the 1915 issue of 75 pieces, the last year for proof gold coinage until the modern era. This phenomenal piece has been awarded the vaunted NGC Star designation for exceptional eye appeal, an appellation that in this case is more than warranted. Both sides of this exemplary proof gold piece are nearly flawless. The surfaces are uniform, bright yellow-gold. There is a very fine grain texture when the coin is examined closely and the fields are remarkably bright--it is a wonder this finish was not more popular than it was at the time of issue. This is one of three similarly graded pieces at NGC, with two PR68 pieces finer (11/06).
Pictured on page 56 of Proof Gold Coinage of the United States by Robert J. Loewinger, M.D., as an example of Pratt's Indian Head type half eagle.
From The Dr. Robert J. Loewinger Collection.(Registry values: N10218) (NGC ID# 25ZS, PCGS# 8540)
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