Numismatists have long puzzled over the production, shortly before the onset of the Great Depression, of 662,000 Indian Head half eagles.
The Depression in the United States actually began with the decline in the stock market prices starting on Sept. 4, 1929, and the breathtaking drop of Black Tuesday, Oct. 29, quite late in the year. But the production of half eagles, even though it took place earlier in the year, was the first in 13 years, since the 1916-S fives, and was also the largest since the 1913 production of more than 900,000 pieces.
The March 1929 issue of The Numismatist reports a January mintage of 175,000 half eagles. The April issue reports 370,000 for February. Another 117,000 are reported in May for March, giving the accepted total of 662,000. An article in August 1929 The Numismatist titled “Coinage for the Fiscal Year 1929″ gives the “number of pieces of the different denominations coined at the mints of the United States during the fiscal year ended June 30, 1929, as officially reported by the Bureau of the Mint, Washington, D.C.” The figure of 662,000 half eagles stands out — confirmation of the earlier reporting, since all of the 1929-dated half eagles were apparently struck in January-March 1929, within both the fiscal and calendar years.
Regardless of the number of pieces struck, it is clear that few were released, and most of the issue was apparently melted soon after its production. Only a handful of circulated survivors of the 1929 half eagle are known.
A much more recent perspective on the issue is given in Mike Fuljenz’s Indian Gold Coins of the 20th Century, where he ranks the issue as first in overall rarity within the series, even though several other issues are more elusive in high-grade rarity.