The 1909-S Indian Head cent is a semi-key coin that also represents one of the last issues of the iconic one-cent coin series that began in 1859 and ended in 1909. After being struck exclusively at the Philadelphia Mint since its inception, Indian Head cents were finally issued by a branch mint beginning in 1908, when the San Francisco Mint picked up production of the small copper coin. Like its 1908-S counterpart, the 1909-S Indian Head cent is much scarcer than most of the later Philadelphia issues and both are considered semi-key coins for the series.
However, of the two San Francisco Mint Indian Head cents, the 1909 is significantly scarcer than the 1908.
A comparison of mintages for the two coins shows 1,115,000 examples of the 1908-S versus just 309,000 of the 1909-S Indian Head cent. In fact, the 1909-S has an even lower mintage than the series key date, the famous 1877 Indian Head cent. The 1877 and 1909-S Indian Head “pennies” are the only two regular-issue cents in the entire series to have mintages lower than one million coins.
Incidentally, the 1877 Indian Head cent, with its higher mintage, is generally more valuable because fewer examples of the earlier issue were saved than those of the 1909-S.
A Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) survival estimate of the 1909-S Indian Head cent counting Brown, Red/Brown, and Red specimens suggests that less than 5,000 may still exist across all grades, with about half extant in circulated grades. The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) offers a population report tallying 4,074 examples of the 1909-S Indian Head cent at the time of publication, though one must consider that at least some of these coins have been resubmitted to NGC to achieve a higher label grade, so the actual number of unique 1909-S cents handled by NGC is certainly lower.
Production of the 1909-S Indian Head cent ended early in 1909 when the series was replaced by the Lincoln cent. Even more than a century after Indian Head cent production came to an end, the series remains a popular collectible–in part because there are less than 60 different, commonly collected regular-issue coins in the series, including major varieties and the two aforementioned branch-mint coins. It also helps budget-conscious collectors that there are relatively few high-priced keys in the Indian Head cent series.
Indian Head Cent Design
The Indian Head cent was designed by James B. Longacre, who is perhaps best known for this coin. Longacre was skilled as both a portraitist and engraver, and he was serving as the fourth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint when he designed the Indian Head cent, first issued in 1859. Despite appearances, the Native American on the obverse is actually an effigy of Lady Liberty, albeit with a supposedly native headdress. Numismatic lore suggests Longacre based her design on a sketch of his 12-year-old daughter. By most accounts, however – including those of Longacre himself – the model was none other than Crouching Venus, a Greco-Roman statue on loan from the Vatican that was on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the late 1850s.
The obverse of the Indian Head cent shows a leftward-facing bust of Miss Liberty adorned in a feathered headdress representative of Native American culture. On this specimen, a moderately large black spot is located on the second feather from the front; otherwise the toning is subtle yet pleasing. The headdress includes ornate ribbons, including a large ribbon at the base of the headdress below the feathers over Liberty’s forehead that is inscribed with the word LIBERTY. A smaller ribbon drapes down the back of Miss Liberty’s neck and is laced with a diamond pattern.
Another segment of ribbon located deeper in Liberty’s lower hair detail gained more numismatic significance in 1864, when it received the initial “L” for Longacre. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is inscribed in the field along the obverse rim, and the date 1909 sits at the bottom center of the obverse directly under Liberty’s neck.
The reverse of the 1909-S Indian Head cent features an oak wreath with a Union shield at the top center of the field. The wreath encircles the denomination ONE CENT, which is expressed in two lines of text at the center of the reverse. The “S” mintmark representing the coin’s origin at the San Francisco Mint is seen at the bottom center of the coin beneath a ribbon at the base of the wreath.
The edge of the 1909-S Indian Head cent is smooth, without inscription.
Born in 1794, James Barton Longacre served as the fourth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint. He is known for the Flying Eagle cent, the Indian Head cent and the Shield nickel. Longacre died in 1869.
|Year Of Issue:||1909|
|Mint Mark:||S (San Francisco)|
|Alloy:||95% Copper; 5% Tin and Zinc|
|OBV Designer||James B. Longacre|
|REV Designer||James B. Longacre|
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