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HomeUS CoinsIndian Head Cent, Copper-Nickel (1860-1864) : A Collector's Guide

Indian Head Cent, Copper-Nickel (1860-1864) : A Collector’s Guide

A Superb Gem 1860 Indian Head Cent. Image: CoinWeek/ GreatCollections.
A Superb Gem 1860 Indian Head Cent. Image: CoinWeek/GreatCollections.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
 

The Indian Head cent created by United States Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre debuted in 1859.

The previous Flying Eagle cent had been minted for only three years (including the 1856 pattern, which is usually considered a regular issue by collectors). The apparent reason for the change from the Flying Eagle to the Indian Head cent was the weakness of the Flying Eagle design’s strike, brought about because high relief areas on both sides of the coin were opposite each other. Longacre himself, perhaps with assistance from engraver Anthony C. Paquet, started producing patterns in 1858 for a replacement cent that used both the Flying Eagle and the Indian Head motifs. Much has been written about the incongruity of depicting a woman with an Indian chief war bonnet, even when abstracted as a representation of Liberty. Longacre, however, in a letter to Mint Director James R. Snowden, expressed the belief that the headdress was a fitting representation of the “primitive” nature of America’s nationality, and that such a depiction of Liberty was not at all contrary to the sensibilities of the “intelligent American.”

The Indian Head Cent During the Civil War

The reverse laurel wreath design was modified in 1860 from a laurel wreath to an oak wreath and narrow Union shield. Reasons for the change are not known today, though some have speculated that with the Civil War looming the shield was meant to portray a sense of unity.

Millions of Indian Head cents were produced, and by the end of 1860 there was an apparent overabundance of one-cent coins, both Flying Eagle and Indian Head. Debts of multiple dollars were being paid with the cents, provoking a negative reaction from business owners (much as could be expected if the same were done by a consumer today). By 1862, however, the United States was deeply entrenched in the Civil War. With the outcome of that conflict uncertain, not only were silver and gold coins hoarded but so were copper coins. The production of cents nearly tripled from 1861 to 1862, and then almost doubled again in 1863, but still the coins were hoarded. Demand for cents was such that those who wanted them often paid a premium over face value (up to 4% in New York and Massachusetts). Privately issued notes, encased postage stamps, fractional currency, and a multitude of tokens were seen in commerce along with the U.S. cent, but the cent was preferred by the public. Not until 1864 did the situation ease – the same year that marked the transition from a copper-nickel cent composition to bronze.

Thousands of business strike copper-nickel Indian Head cents have been certified, including a few prooflike specimens. Examples are moderately priced until Premium Gem for most issues. Prices for the 1860 Pointed Bust variety are higher than other issues in Mint State and finer, much more so as near-Gem and finer.

Fewer Proof coins have been certified (naturally), including some designated Cameo and Deep Cameo. Proof coin prices are moderate, but increase at Select Uncirculated grades to expensive as Gem or finer. Prices for 1861 Proofs are moderately higher priced than other issues, significantly so in Gem and finer.

Varieties

1860 Indian Head Cent with Pointed Bust. Image: GreatCollections.
1860 Indian Head Cent with Pointed Bust. Image: GreatCollections.

Very few varieties of the Type 2 (copper-nickel) Indian Head cent are known, but those that are known are primarily date- and die-doubling examples. The best known variety is the 1860 Pointed Bust, so-called because the tip of the bust is more pointed than the rounded end typically seen.

In-Depth Copper-Nickel Indian Head Cent Date Analysis by CoinWeek

Indian Head Cent Design

Obverse:

Liberty’s face on the cent is similar to Longacre’s 1854 Three Dollar Gold piece and also bears resemblance to his 1849 gold dollar and $20 double eagle Liberty portraits. Wearing a beaded necklace, Liberty faces left. On her head is a nine-feathered Indian war bonnet with a band displaying LIBERTY. Locks of hair drape down the back, and one end of the diamond-patterned head band curls slightly to the front, with the other end somewhat hidden between the hair and the bottom feather. UNITED STATES follows along a dentilled border to the left, OF AMERICA along the right. The date is at the bottom.

Reverse:

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. All copper-nickel Indian Head cents were produced in Philadelphia so no mintmark is displayed.

Edge:

The edge is plain or smooth, without reeding or edge lettering.

Coin Specifications

Indian Head Cent
Years Of Issue: 1860-64
Mintage (Circulation): High: 49,840,000 (1863); Low: 13,740,000 (1864 copper-nickel composition; additional 1864 business strike coins minted in bronze)
Mintage (Proof): High: 1,000 (1860 and 1861, estimated); Low: 370 (1864 copper-nickel composition, estimated; additional 1864 Proofs minted in bronze)
Alloy: 88% copper, 12% nickel
Weight: 4.67 g
Diameter: 19.00 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: James B. Longacre
REV Designer: James B. Longacre

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Feigenbaum, David Lawrence and John Feigenbaum. The Complete Guide to Certified Barber Coinage. DLRC Press.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Lange, David W. The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents. Zyrus Press.

–. Coin Collecting Boards of the 1930s and 1940s. Pennyboard Press.

Snow, Richard. A Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S and Kenneth Bressett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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CoinWeek
CoinWeek
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