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Coins Are a Curious Thing: Indian Head Cents

Indian Cents

By Jim Bisognani – NGC Weekly Market Report ……
As often happens during the winter season, I find myself at the mercy of the elements. This past weekend was one of those occasions: moderate snowfall lingering all day, howling winds and frigid temps. Old Man Winter’s wrath allotted me time to stay inside my warm abode, and with my internet down, I decided to pull out some old numismatic volumes, catalogs, sundry magazines, and related literature.

After rifling through a few old newsletters and fixed-price lists, I found myself waxing nostalgic about coins, and just why they have been an integral part of my life. I calculate now that I’ve been a “coindexter” for about 87% of my existence and counting (but who’s counting?).

The Great Collector

I fondly recall, after intellectually devouring my first Red Book from cover to cover around this time of year in 1965, that I soon found myself fantasizing about these curious metal discs. I dreamt about how I would travel the world and locate lost and forgotten caches of rarities. Through sleuthing, hobnobbing and careful research, I would become the Great Collector! As my network of notable numismatic brethren grew, fame and fortune would follow as I eventually secured a coin in every grade listed in the Red Book!

Well, of course, this didn’t quite happen. But I am thrilled to be able to research, catalog and report on the subject that I enjoy and care about so much. Coins have always been a curious thing. They are not just money, but living bits of history circulating through the hands of untold humanity.

For the new or aspiring collector who asks what is so fascinating about this hobby, one of my responses is akin to the proverbial snowflakes that have been chasing me around here: no two coins are exactly alike. Color, strike, die varieties, etc. make each coin unique. Aside from that, it is a great, enjoyable and rewarding quest.

So whether you’re building an individual type set, or your goal is a complete collection by date and mintmark, a lifetime of enjoyment will be yours.

The Indian Head Cent

For the collector just getting acquainted with the hobby, Indian cents are a great series to assemble. All told, these wildly popular coins enjoyed a 50-year run! Replacing the massive large cents in 1857 were the famous and short-lived Flying Eagle cents, which were produced on a much smaller planchet and composed of a new copper-nickel composition that gave them a slightly white look.

Then, commencing in 1859, the Indian Head cent (also in copper-nickel) made its first appearance. Through most of the Civil War, the composition of the coins remained the same until 1864, when, in addition to the copper-nickel variety, the familiar bronze issues were introduced. Until 1909, the coin design and composition remained the same.

Affordable and Historic

The copper-nickel issues (1859-1864) are all highly affordable in high-grade circ through average Mint State. And aside from the 1877 and 1909-S, the rest of the series poses no real financial stress to acquire in circulated grades or even Mint State.

For my fellow coindexter looking to take the plunge, perhaps an Indian Head cent from the last year of that series, 1909, will serve as an excellent first acquisition. The coin may be a worn but problem-free VG grade, and aside from the design detail, the coloring may be tan, woodgrain, chocolate or even charcoal in appearance.

These fabulous bronze coins in Mint State can be a glossy brown, blonde, Red and Brown, brick red, pumpkin orange, golden and a plethora of patination in between. The individual character of these coins is one of the reasons that Indian cents have one of the most ardent followings.

For the beginner, a great entry point would be to assemble coins from, say, 1888 to the end of the series. With the exception of the 1908-S and 1909-S, this subset can be located and bought with great ease: Generally for $5 or less in Very Fine and better, to under $50 for most Mint State (MS 60-62) brown and even red and brown designated coins.

To get a jump-start on your quest, take a look at this handful of delightful and affordable Indian cents currently up for bid at GreatCollections & David Lawrence Rare Coin online auctions.

This 1907 Indian Head Cent, graded NGC AU 58 BN is just a lovely glossy median brown coin on the cusp of full Mint State! A common and very affordable coin within the series, yet so attractive!

Here is an 1880 Indian Head Cent, graded NGC MS 65 RB. This is a better late date in high grade. This coin is so visually compelling. Red, mauve, icy blue race over the sharply struck obverse! A mere 17 coins grade numerically higher within the RB designation.

This 1899 Indian Head 1 Cent, graded NGC MS 65 RB, is a vibrant and lustrous red and brown example from the last coin of the 1800s! A slightly better date possessing great eye appeal!

Here is another delightful virtual Mint State coin: This 1901 Indian Head Cent, graded NGC AU 58 BN. Just look at the robust red and orange showcasing the design elements through a common coin; she is truly special.

Here is a nicely contrasted “white cent” struck during the early part of the Civil War. This 1862 Indian Head Cent, graded NGC XF 45, is a great type coin of the copper-nickel variety Indian, and also a historic relic of the War Between the States.

Until next time, happy collecting!

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Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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