Motto, Matte Proof. Only 116 Minted!
The Philadelphia Mint switched to a matte, or sandblast, finish for gold proof coins in 1908, because the new designs by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Bela Lyon Pratt were not suitable for the old brilliant proof finish of earlier years. The 1908 proofs were sandblasted with a coarse grain of sand after striking, which imparted a dark olive patina to the coins. The fields were not reflective, but the devices were sharply rendered and the resulting finish had an artistic European appearance. Unfortunately, U.S. collectors of the early 20th century preferred the old brilliant finish, and the new proofs were unpopular from the start. John Dannreuther notes 500 proof Indian eagles were struck in 1908, but only 116 were distributed by December 30. The remaining unsold specimens were melted. The surviving population numbers just 70 to 80 examples in all grades today.
The 1908 gold proof sets began appearing at auction at an early date, as dealers and collectors alike speculated on the new designs. An early auction appearance was in lot 18 of the Charles Conover Collection (B. Max Mehl, 5/1914):
"1908 $20, $10, $5, $2.50. The new St. Gaudens and Pratt types. Dull sand blasted finish. Complete set. Four pieces. Extremely rare. A similar set, in the Zabriskie sale in 1909, brought $70.00. Is worth far more now."
Mehl's statement about the rising value of gold proofs has held true over the years and present-day collectors appreciate the sandblast proofs for their artistic merit and rarity. Recent sales of 1908 proof Indian eagles include the PR65 PCGS specimen in lot 5673 of the Chicago Signature (Heritage, 8/2014), that realized $79,312.50.
In addition to the new finish, the 1908 proofs featured the new design with the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse, an important consideration for type collectors. This delightful Gem exhibits sharply detailed design elements throughout, with fine definition on the lower headdress feathers and the eagle's shoulder. The dark olive-gold surfaces are impeccably preserved and overall eye appeal is terrific. This coin is part of a complete 1908 proof set, with the other coins offered in neighboring lots in the catalog. Population: 14 in 65, 15 finer (1/20).