Indian $2.5

The Saint-Gaudens double eagle (or $20 gold piece) is frequently acclaimed as the single most beautiful coin in American history. A case can be made, however, that two smaller United States gold coins from the same historical period are really much more innovative and daring. And, at the time they made their first appearance, they were also quite a bit more controversial. These two coins are the Indian Head quarter and half eagles—or, in layman’s terms, the Indian Head $2.50 and $5 gold pieces, respectively.

At the start of the 20th century, the life expectancy of the average American was less than fifty years. But the four gold coins then being issued by Uncle Sam had all been around without a major design change for more than fifty years. Three, in fact, had carried the same design—a portrait of Miss Liberty wearing a coronet—for more than 60 years.