The Indian Head one-cent coin was produced by the United States Mint from 1859 through 1909. It was designed by James Barton Longacre, the Engraver at the Philadelphia Mint.
The obverse of the coin shows UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, an Indian head facing to the left, wearing a feather bonnet. The word LIBERTY is shown on the band across the bonnet, and shows the production date below.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
The coin’s reverse side shows ONE CENT within a laurel wreath. In 1860 the reverse design was changed slightly, showing ONE CENT within an oak wreath, with three arrows inserted under the ribbon that binds the two branches of the wreath. Above and between the ends of the branches is the shield of the United States. As such, the 1859 Indian Head Cent is a One Year Type Coin which enjoys continuing popularity among Indian Head Cent collectors and type collector alike.
The coins that were struck between 1859 and 1864 were composed of 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel, as required by law. In 1864, the weight of the coins was reduced from 72 grains to the present weight of 48 grains, and the alloy changed to 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin and zinc. Research in 1863 indicated that bronze was an excellent alloy for minor coins, and so the copper-nickel alloy was discontinued. Total production of the Indian Head cent was 1,849,648,000 pieces.
The Director of the Mint, James Ross Snowden, wrote a letter on November 4, 1858, to Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb, suggesting that a change be made in the design of the Flying Eagle cent. He pointed out that the relief of that coin was too high, and that the design did not seem too acceptable to the public. Snowden submitted models for a new design, and Secretary Cobb gave his approval to what later became the Indian Head Cent.
According to records at the United States Mint, the design of the Indian Head cent became official on January 1, 1859, and was first released into circulation early that year. When the coin was first produced, Longacre’s initials did not appear on the coin, but beginning in 1864, a small “L” was added.
There is a popular rumor about the design of this coin, which states that Mr. Longacre used his daughter as his model for the Indian likeness on the cent. Unfortunately, this information has not been authenticated in United States Mint files.
Initially, the production of the five-cent nickel and the one-cent bronze coin was limited by law to the Philadelphia Mint. An Act of Congress passed on April 24, 1906, provided for the making of these denominations at other Mint facilities.
The manufacture of the Indian Head cent at the San Francisco Mint in November 1908 marked the first time this denomination of coins was minted outside of Philadelphia. One-cent coin production did not begin at the Denver Mint until 1911.
Designer: James B. Longacre
Mintage: 36,400,000 – Proof 800
Diameter: 19 millimeters
Metal content: Copper – 88% Nickel – 12%
Weight: 72 grains (4.67 grams)
Ouch! LAUREL, please, not “LAURAL”