On advice from a friend, President Theodore Roosevelt chose Boston sculptor and artist Bela Lyon Pratt to design the $5 Indian Gold Coin as part of the president’s effort to beautify American coinage. Pratt was the student of American Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens who had designed the $20 Saint-Gaudens and the $10 Indian Head Coin. Pratt would later go on to design the $2.50 Gold Indian Head Coin.
The obverse of the $5 Indian Head displays an Indian Head in profile view with a full-feathered headdress. This is thought to be the first true Native American to appear on a U.S. coin. The date the coin was issued sits under the profile, while the word “LIBERTY” is arched across the top of the coin. Thirteen stars surround the Indian head.
On the reverse of the coin, an eagle stands chest-out, looking proud, with its talons clutching an olive branch, while standing upon a sheaf of arrows the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” are engraved across the top of the coin, while “IN GOD WE TRUST,” “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and the coin’s denomination surround the eagle.
Like the $2.50 Indian Head Gold Coin, the $5 coin stands out from other U.S. coins because it used incuse relief, which gives the design elements and letters a recessed appearance on a flat surface.
At the time people thought that bacteria would accumulate in the recesses of the coins, and that they would be a breeding ground for disease. This limited their initial popularity, but they are now much in demand.