By January 1861, the process of southern secession was underway, signaling the onset of America’s deadliest war. Throughout this tumultuous year, the country experienced a multitude of historic events: Abraham Lincoln would become the 16th president, the Confederate States of America was born, and the Civil War commenced. Despite the loss of its branch facilities in Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans, the United States Mint continued to strike coins.
The Indian Head cent was no exception. While this denomination was produced solely at the Philadelphia facility, there were no interruptions during its striking process. However, the Mint dropped the cent mintage in 1861 to 10,100,000 pieces. This was due both to the constraints of war and the large 1857-8 issuances of Flying Eagle cents and Indian Head cents in 1859-60 that flooded the economy with small denomination coins. As a result, the 1861 Indian head is fairly rare and has the lowest mintage of the early copper-nickel type.
War-based disruptions to the economy inevitably sparked widespread hoarding of the already limited gold and silver coinage. Eventually, the populace even began pulling non-specie pieces, such as the 1861 Indian Head cent, from circulation. As a result, many examples were in circulation for only a short period of time and are in slightly better condition than usual for such a widely used denomination. However, in Mint State grades of 65 or higher, the 1861 is not actually rated as significantly rarer than the bookend years of 1860 or 1862. PCGS CoinFacts lists the 1861 as an R 6.3 in MS65 or better, with an estimated survival estimate of only 350 pieces.
Another result of the limited issuance size can be seen in the small number of varieties for this date since a limited mintage means a limited number of dies from which to produce varieties. While there are several minor varieties, the only significant type included in the Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare Die Varieties is the RPD-001 repunched date. The repunched date can be seen in the second “1” in 1861, with a weaker secondary “1” visible to the south (beneath) of the primary digit.
That being said, the 1861 is known to be generally well struck for the series, with examples in Gem Mint State retaining significant luster.
The 1861 in Today’s Market
Currently, certified mid-grade examples of the 1861 are worth between $50 to $100, with some pieces selling for slightly more. About Uncirculated pieces average $200 to $250, while low-Mint-State examples sell for $350 to $500. Examples that are certified as MS65 and above are hammering for at least $1,000. At the time of writing, the most recent auction record for an NGC-graded MS68 was $30,000 in a February 2020 Heritage auction. Heritage also holds the record of highest-priced 1861 Indian Head cent – an MS 68 sold in their April 2009 auction for $63,250. While high-grade examples are relatively hard to come by and mainly sold at auction, lower-grade (Fine-AU) pieces are easy to find and can be acquired at any coin dealer or show.
Indian Head Cent Design
The Indian Head cent was designed by James B. Longacre, who is perhaps best known for this coin. Longacre was skilled as both a portraitist and engraver, and he was serving as the fourth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint when he designed the Indian Head cent, first issued in 1859. Despite appearances, the Native American on the obverse is actually an effigy of Lady Liberty, albeit with a supposedly native headdress. Numismatic lore suggests Longacre based his design on a sketch of his 12-year-old daughter. By most accounts, however – including those of Longacre himself – the model was none other than Crouching Venus, a Greco-Roman statue on loan from the Vatican that was on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the late 1850s.
The obverse of the Indian Head cent shows a leftward-facing bust of Miss Liberty adorned in a feathered headdress representative of Native American culture. The headdress includes ornate ribbons, including a large ribbon at the base of the headdress below the feathers over Liberty’s forehead that is inscribed with the word LIBERTY. A smaller ribbon drapes down the back of Miss Liberty’s neck and is laced with a diamond pattern. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is inscribed in the field along the obverse rim, and the date 1861 sits at the bottom center of the obverse directly under Liberty’s neck.
The reverse has a concentric two-part wreath inside a denticled rim, tied together at the bottom by a ribbon that also binds three arrows. The wreath is mostly composed of oak leaves with acorns, though another type of leaf is shown at the bottom on the left side. The top ends of the wreath separate to allow for the placement of a small Union shield, and ONE CENT is prominently displayed in the center of the flan. Since all examples were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, there is no mintmark.
The edge of the 1861 Indian Head cent is smooth, without inscription.
Born in 1794, James Barton Longacre served as the fourth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. He is known for the Flying Eagle cent, the Indian Head cent, and the Shield nickel. Longacre died in 1869.
|Year Of Issue:||1861|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||88% Copper, 12% Nickel|
|OBV Designer||James Barton Longacre|
|REV Designer||James Barton Longacre|