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HomeUS CoinsQ. David Bowers: Brief Notes on Indian Head Cents

Q. David Bowers: Brief Notes on Indian Head Cents

Q. David Bowers: Brief Notes on Indian Head Cents - Stack's Bowers Galleries

By Q. David BowersCo-Founder, Stack’s Bowers …..
In 1859, a new design was adopted for the cent, incorporating on the obverse Miss Liberty dressed in an Indian war bonnet, with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA surrounding, and the date below. The design was by Chief Engraver James B. Longacre. The reverse displayed a laurel or olive (in Mint correspondence, both words are used) wreath enclosing ONE / CENT in two lines. These were made in quantity—36,400,000 for circulation and perhaps a thousand or so Proofs for collectors. For reasons seemingly not recorded, the reverse die was deemed unsatisfactory.

Toward the end of the year, a new reverse with an oak wreath (and other species) and shield was used to produce patterns, or perhaps they were made for circulation—for the finish was the circulation strike format, not Proof. It is not known how many were made, but 500 to 1,000 might be a good guess. The late John J. Ford, Jr. considered that they might have been made as regular issues and listed them as such in the 18th (and final) edition of the Standard Catalogue of United States Coins.

Cents with the Indian Head obverse and the new Oak Wreath and Shield reverse were produced continuously through early 1909. In spring 1864 the copper-nickel alloy was discontinued, and bronze was substituted, consisting of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. This alloy remained in use into the 20th century and in 1909 was the standard for the new Lincoln cent. With some gaps, this was the alloy until early 1982.

In autumn 1864, the tiny initial “L” for Longacre was added to the ribbon on Miss Liberty’s bonnet. Today, about three bronze 1864 cents without L exist for each one with an L. For numismatists, Indian Head cents were popular, both in Proof format and as circulation strikes. Along the way, the 1877 cent was recognized as the rarity in the series. Mint records state that just 852,000 were made for circulation – the only mintage to dip below several million in the series up to that point. It is possible that some of the cents struck in 1877 were from earlier-dated dies, for they were even harder to find in circulation than the low mintage might suggest.

In 1908, the San Francisco Mint struck cents for the first time – 1,115,000 pieces. Unlike the situation for the 1877 cent, the numismatic significance of the 1908-S was recognized by collectors at the time of issue, and modest quantities of Mint State coins were saved, making them scarce but not rare today.

In 1909 at San Francisco, 309,000 1909-S Indian Head cents were made, these too were saved at the time. Both the 1908-S and 1909-S cents were made of a bronze alloy that, when run through a metal strip rolling machine, stretched out certain incompletely blended components of the alloy (Bill Fivaz uses the term “improper metal mix”), resulting in a “wood grain” or streaky effect in the finished coins; this became noticeable later as the coins acquired natural light toning. Also, the alloy was slightly lighter and of a distinctive yellow-brass hue, quite unlike that used at Philadelphia at the time.

Accordingly, it is possible to differentiate these cents by looking at the obverse only, and not checking for a mintmark, a little secret recognized by specialists but not widely known. These same alloy characteristics are true for most of the Lincoln cents made in San Francisco in 1909, continuing into the early 1920s. Coins that have been dipped have lost these distinctions. Now you can tell the difference.

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  1. I have a 1901 Penny with the yellow huge, it looks like there was a penny pressed where the penny is dated. I also have 1909, and 1907 Indian head penny

  2. I have a 1902 Indian head penny , curious as to look to find any certain markings on it to find its value .

  3. I had placed in a safe over three hundred coin collection, lost combination. Could not open safe until last week when I decided to force it open, I have all kinds of coins, from old pennies to Silver Dollars. Miniature Indian Head Pennies, England coins. Where should I go to know their value?

  4. I have a 1864 indian head penny with the l in the ribbon only found one scratch on the surface otherwise mint 66, 67 possibly 68 not sure and a 1898 Indian head penny mintstate 67 will sell for right amount both very beautiful well perverted

  5. I have a a Lincoln wheat penny that’s been stamped Twice on one side on the other is a v stamped over Lincolns face and very lightly stamped other side the wheat side it looks to be done factorey I dont really know what its worth or if its worth any thing???

  6. I have a 1802 Indian head penny idk if it’s worth anything, I have a 1935, 1910, 1911, wheat pennys they are in mint condition, some look like they are double died, are they worth anything

    • I have a indian gead penny. with two errors on it. 1 is a line through ths face from the planchet. And the other is a closed 9. In the date. I was wondering. The value of it it is a 1898. Indain head penny. Thank you for ur time. I be waiting for ur reply


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