Collecting United States Indian Head cents is a hobby that began in the year 1859 when this artistic numismatic engraving was first struck as coinage. From it’s arrival on the scene in early America, this coin has found it’s way into coin cabinets and collector books around the globe.
The original first-year coin was minted in large numbers at the Philadelphia mint. Total production for first-year issues is noted at 36,400,000, which is no short run. First-year coins are still available today, ranging from $10 for worn out examples or damaged coins, to thousands of dollars for high-grade un-circulated specimens.
This year also saw a small striking in proof for collectors. A minuscule 800 examples are fought over for around $1,500 on a bad day.
Proof examples of any Indian Head cent are rare, but there are years that you can still acquire a proof for around $300 or $400. It’s a good investment to say the least, as they’re disappearing fast.
The 1859 issue of the United States Indian Head cent was a on- year type coin, and the specifications, weight and composition are as follows;
Designer: James B. Longacre
Weight: 4.67 grams
Composition: .880 copper, .120 nickel
Variety Two. The Mighty Oak Wreath is Added
In 1860, there was a design change to the reverse of the coin. An oak wreath was added, and the familiar shield was placed at the top between the open wreath prongs. This coin lived on unchanged until 1864 and maintained its nickel composition until that time.
The 1860 coin will have either a round or pointed bust, and the pointed bust is slightly harder to find. 20 million plus coins were produced in 1860.
The remaining years from 1861 until halfway through 1864 saw similar high production numbers between 10 million and 50 million coins.
1864 Enter the Bronze Age
In the middle of 1864, another change was necessary. This change was directly related to the Civil War. Cents were rapidly disappearing from circulation. Combine that with the need for all available copper to make ammunition and you have a shortage that the government was forced to address. They did this by introducing a much cheaper to make, bronze cent.
Because this coin was changed during the middle of the year, there was a need to make a difference in the design without a lot of cost and new die making. It was close to the end of the year and new dies would be needed soon for the 1865 coins.
The decision was made to add an “L” in the ribbon that flows behind the bust. This L was to mark the coin with the designer’s initial (Longacre) and thus an easy fix to the design change was agreed upon.
Due to the fact that only a small amount of 1864-L coins were minted, it has become somewhat of a semi key date coin within the series. The 1864-L type cent runs about five times the price of its counterpart without the initial.
Still 19mm and still a plain edge, the composition of the cent was now .950 copper with .050 tin and zinc. The coins were now much more affordable to produce, and they were struck in the millions for all but a couple of key years throughout the rest of the series.
The Key Date United States Indian Head Cents
Indian head cents were struck until 1909. That final year produced one of the key date coins to the series. The 1909-S Indian Head cent is a prize to all collectors and really hard to find in high grades for any price.
Minted in San Francisco, the 09-S was produced in very short quantity. 309,000 examples were struck, and most of them have homes already. If you’re going to put together a set of these coins, check the price on this one coin and find out what grade you will be able to afford, then you can easily build the collection around this coin.
Another key date for the Indian head series is the famous 1877 Indian Head cent. This coin also had such a short mintage that all examples are pretty comfy within a numismatic collection.
When one of these coins shows up on the market, it usually means the owner really needed money and had nothing else to sell. This is another coin that a set should be built around, according to what you can afford to spend on this one year.
Color and Grade Should Match for Best Resale
When building any numismatic collection of copper coins, it’s very important to try not to vary the color too much. Keep coins within a certain range for contrast. If you have a dark copper coin in one slot and a light copper coin in the next two and then a dark one shows for the next year, the set just doesn’t have the aesthetic appeal you’ll need to get the best price when you sell.
In the same token, coins should all be the same grade or relatively close within a grade up or down. This way when and if you do go to sell the set, you will have a lot more interested buyers with a well matched set to offer.
Get the Keys First the Rest is Easy
Hunting down the hard key dates at a price we like will take the most time. I recommend you purchase the key date coins first when you’re building a set. This way when you move on to more common coins, they will all be less expensive as you go. This makes the set a lot easier to complete and it sets the grade right from the start.
A lot of people will collect these coins backwards. They will buy uncirculated common year United States Indian Head cents because they can be found rather easily and then not be able to afford the multi thousand dollar key date coins in the same shape. Getting the keys first will eliminate the chance of this happening.
Above All, Have Fun
Coin collecting is a great hobby. That’s probably why it’s the No. 1 hobby in the world. United States Indian Head cents play a big role in many numismatic collections.
Collecting should be, above all, a fun experience. Families often build collections together. The collections are completed and then passed down with the estate. Some sets will be built exclusively for investment, but hey, no one said investing can’t be fun.