HomeUS CoinsCopper CoinsUS Classic Coins - An Indian Head Cent Primer

US Classic Coins – An Indian Head Cent Primer

By Kathleen DuncanPinnacle Rarities ……

Indian Head Cent designer James Barton Longacre
Artwork By Chuck Daughtrey

Like its Flying Eagle predecessor, also designed by James Barton Longacre, the Indian Head cent was initially struck on copper-nickel planchets. Copper-nickel cents were produced from 1859 until 1864 with a total production of about 158 million. You should have no problem finding a great selection. Proofs examples for each year were also issued.

1859 was first year of issue for the Indian Head Cent. It is also a one-year type as a small shield was added above ONE CENT on the reverse the following year. These coins were thick and much lighter in color than the dark copper of the Large Cents. Many people referred to them as “white cents” at the time.

Civil War-related hoarding caused the Mint to switch to a cheaper bronze alloy in 1864. The weight was also reduced by a third. This change resulted in a thinner coin much like the cents we know today. Both kinds of cents were issued in 1864, with the bronze outnumbering the copper-nickel by about 3-to-1.

The 1864 bronze cent provides the year’s scarcest variety on which Longacre’s initial “L” appears on the ribbon of Liberty’s bonnet.

Indian Head CentIndian Head cents remained in production without interruption for half a century before giving way to the Lincoln cent in 1909.

The design remained the same for the entire run after 1864 except for minute changes in 1886. Then-chief engraver Charles Barber slightly lowered the relief and made a small change in the position of the bust. For all but the last two years, Indian Heads were struck solely at the Philadelphia Mint.

In 1908 and 1909, the San Francisco branch struck cents. These coins were struck in very limited quantities. The “S” mintmark appears below the wreath on the reverse. The 1909-S has the lowest mintage at 309,000 pieces. The 1877, at 852,500, is more valuable as fewer examples survived.

Other rarities include the 1869 with a doubled 9, 1872 and 1908-S. Proofs were struck every year, usually in the thousands. Except for the earlier years, mintages of only between 150 and 700 are available to collectors.

The 1864 Bronze had the smallest proof mintages: 150 for the no “L” variety and only 20 for the with “L” coin, making it a major rarity.

Proof Indian Head centThe Indian Head Series

Although the series is relatively long, it encompasses just 55 issues since there are only two branch mint examples (1908-S and 1909-S). For proofs, the number is 48. Given these relatively moderate numbers and the limited number of high-priced rarities, many collectors assemble complete date and mint sets. Some also assemble complete date sets of both business strikes and proofs (typically without the rare varieties).

Full Red examples are the rarest and most valuable, many collectors find exceptional beauty in the interesting colors found on some of the Brown and Red-Brown specimens. Usually these non-Reds can be purchased at a fraction of their Red counterparts.

While most dates are readily available up to Gem condition, almost all dates excluding those in the 20th century are rare above MS65RD. The series has long been and continues to be one of the most popularly collected of all United States numismatic series.

To view a fabulous selection of Indian cents currently for sale, click here.

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