In terms of prices, key coins sometimes seem to have a life of their own. The list of key coins that are, at least in some grades, more expensive than their numbers at grading services would suggest is long. To this group can be added the 1911-D Indian Head quarter eagle.
In fairness, the 1911-D quarter eagle is a somewhat unusual coin. With a mintage of 55,680, it is by far the lowest mintage date in the Indian Head quarter eagle set. The next lowest mintage is the 1914 at 240,000.
By the 1900s there were still not many gold coin collectors. That was even more true of those collecting by date and mint. The majority of people collecting just by date probably would have obtained the 704,000 mintage 1911.
Another factor to consider is that if a gold coin was not saved by a collector it had a much greater chance of ending up in the melting pot as a result of the Gold Recall Order of 1933. It is a stretch to suggest that the 1911-D Indian Head quarter eagle was melted in large numbers, but some were probably destroyed in the recall.
The coin was not an especially well-known one for a long period of time. For many decades after it was produced, there was little reason to collect gold coins. The price of gold was stable and that kept the price of most gold coins in a relatively narrow range. In circulated grades the 1911-D and many other dates were basically at bullion prices. The same is true today.
It can, however, be suggested that lately the 1911-D has been on a roll in terms of price increases. Back in 1998 in VF-20, it was at $700. Today in VF-20 it is $2,500. In MS-60 it has jumped from $2,450 to $9,850, while in MS-65 it has increased from $36,000 to $90,000.
Even at those high prices, the 1911-D has to be a coin that is examined carefully. It is famous for having a troublesome mintmark, which is rarely clear. It was punched onto the die and became a high part of the coin. That meant even routine stacking or light friction could cause the mintmark to blur, and for $90,000 you do not want a coin some will call second rate.
Of course, Indian Head quarter eagles and half eagles do not reach MS-65 with any regularity. Incuse motifs made the field the highest part of the coin, and it picked up small marks from stacking.
The Professional Coin Grading Service had graded 13 examples of the 1911-D and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has graded 25. That is a hefty combined number for a $90,000 coin, and that is just the MS-65 total.
It is fair to question the $90,000 price in light of these totals, but the 1911-D is widely recognized as the key Indian Head quarter eagle. This makes for greater demand from collectors and dealers than is usually the case and could be what is fueling the rising price.