Small Cents – Indian Head Cent, Copper-Nickel, 1860-1864

James B. Longacre’s Indian Head design for the cent debuted in 1859. The previous Flying Eagle design had been minted for only three years (including the 1856 pattern, usually considered a regular issue by collectors). The apparent reason for the change from the Flying Eagle design was weakness in the strike, brought about because high relief areas on both sides of the coin were opposite each other. Longacre himself, perhaps with assistance from Anthony C. Paquet, in 1858 started producing patterns 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 sensibility of the “intelligent American.”

Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries

The reverse laurel wreath design was modified in 1860 to an oak wreath and a 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 abundance of one cent coins, both Flying Eagle and Indian Head, so many that the coins were considered a nuisance. 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 engaged in the Civil War. With an uncertain outcome of that conflict not only were silver and gold coins hoarded but so were copper coins. Production of the 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.

Liberty’s face on the cent is similar to Longacre’s 1854 three dollar gold piece, and also bears resemblance to his 1849 gold one dollar and 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.

The reverse has a concentric two-part wreath inside a dentilled 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; no mintmark is displayed.

Thousands of business strike copper-nickel Indian Head cents have been certified, including a very 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 as Mint State and finer, much more so as near-Gem and finer. A few hundred proof coins have been certified, 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 as Gem and finer.


Designer: James B. Longacre
Circulation Mintage: high 49,840,000 (1863), low 13,740,000 (1864, copper-nickel composition. Additional 1864 business strike coins were minted in bronze.)
Proof Mintage:high 1,000 (1860 and 1861, estimated), low 370 (1864, copper-nickel composition, estimated. Additional 1864 proof coins were minted in bronze.)
Denomintion: $0.01 One cent (1/100)
Diameter: ±19 mm, plain edge
Metal content: 88% copper, 12% nickel
Weight: ±4.67 grams
Varieties:Very few known, primarily date and die doubling examples. The best known variety is the 1860 Pointed Bust, so-called because the tip of the bust (to the left) is more pointed than the rounded end typically seen.

Additional Resources :

Coin Encyclopedia:
A Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents. Richard Snow. Whitman Publishing.
The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. R.S Yeoman (author), Kenneth Bressett (editor). Whitman Publishing.
A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Ron Guth and Jeff Garrett. Whitman Publishing.
The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Q. David Bowers. Whitman Publishing.
The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Don Taxay. Arco Publishing
Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Walter Breen. Doubleday.

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