History of the 1907 Indian Head Cent
Despite the Panic of 1907, when the New York Stock Exchange fell to nearly 50% of its pre-crash level in three weeks, the United States Mint continued to churn out Indian Head cents in record numbers. At the same time, the U.S. economy became ever more dependent on small change and the demand for cents only grew. This was due to two main factors: the increased adoption of coin-operated machines tooled for one-cent pieces and the introduction of new goods that cost only one cent. In 1907, one cent had the same purchasing power as 32 modern cents in 2023.
To fulfill the public’s ever-growing need for small change, Congress passed the Act of April 24, 1906, which granted the Mint permission to strike cents at any facility. This was accomplished due to lobbying by the Treasury Department. Until this point, the Mint was only legally allowed to produce cent coins at its Philadelphia facility. However, according to the United States Mint Director’s Report from 1907 (link below), this was not done until the following year. Additionally, the financial appropriation, which allowed the Mint to purchase metal for its cent production, was increased dramatically. In 1907, the mintage topped 100 million pieces for the first and only time in the Indian Head series.
The 1907 Indian Head Cent in Today’s Market
Luckily for the interested collector, the 1907 Indian Head cent can be considered, if not the easiest to collect, then at least one of the most common. In the very lowest grades (G6 and below), the type can be found easily at any coin store or coin show for $1 or less.
That said, as with all modern copper coins, the value of the 1907 varies dramatically based on the color designation as well as the grade. Coins that retain their as-struck appearance with nearly all (90%+) of their original copper coloration will earn the RD/Red designation. As natural oxidization occurs, the coin loses luster and starts to turn brown–this would earn it the designation RB/Red Brown. Lastly, when the coin stabilizes into a dark chocolatey brown, the official designation given by the grading services becomes BN/Brown.
Coins with the RB designation and MS 64 grade sell for between $80 and $100, while the same coin with an RD designation regularly earns $100 to $200. This premium for RD examples continues in MS 65, with RD coins being sold for $250 to $400 – or $100 to $200 more than RB examples. In MS 66, RD examples sell for upwards of five times their RB counterparts. Lastly, in the top population grade of MS 67, RD-designated examples sell for over $20,000.
While there are many lower-grade examples, the 1907 was not collected in great numbers compared to other dates. Consequently, there is only one known MS 67+. That coin was sold by Heritage Auctions in December 2019 for $63,000.
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 that Longacre based the 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. Another segment of ribbon located deeper in Liberty’s lower hair detail gained more numismatic significance in 1864 when it received the initial “L” for Longacre. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is inscribed in the field along the obverse rim, and the date 1901 sits at the bottom center of the obverse directly under Liberty’s neck.
The reverse of the 1907 Indian Head cent features an oak wreath with a Union shield at the top center of the field. The wreath encircles the denomination ONE CENT, which is expressed in two lines of text at the center of the reverse. Since this coin was struck in Philadelphia, there is no mintmark.
The edge of the 1907 Indian Head cent is smooth or plain, without reeding or lettering.
About the Coin’s Designer
James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) was one of the most famous U.S. engravers and medallic artists of the 19th century. Longacre was appointed the fourth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint by President John Tyler after the third chief engraver, Christian Gobrecht, died in 1844. Before this appointment, Longacre worked for the Philadelphia engraving company Murray, Draper, Fairman & Co. until he began working for himself in 1819. As an independent engraver, Longacre produced a series of famous plates that featured the Founding Fathers, President Andrew Jackson, and Senator John C. Calhoun. Once he became chief engraver at the Mint, he produced such famous pieces as the Flying Eagle cent, the Shield nickel, and the Coronet Head double eagle.
|Year Of Issue:||1907|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||95% Copper, 5% Zinc and Tin|
|OBV Designer||James Barton Longacre|
|REV Designer||James Barton Longacre|
Snow, Richard. A Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents. (2009)