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Indian Head Penny Obverse The Indian Head Cent was minted from 1859 to 1909. When the coin is in better condition, the word LIBERTY can be seen on the band of the bonnet.

Indian Head Cent


The Indian Head Cent is among the most collectible of U.S. coins. Designed by James Barton Longacre, the Indian Head Cent was minted for 50 years from 1859 to 1909. The diameter is 19 mm, just like today's modern penny, but the metal composition was different in the early years. From 1859 until 1864 the Indian Head Cent was composed of a copper-nickel alloy (88% copper and 12% nickel). In 1864 the alloy was changed to bronze, which is 95% and 5% tin and zinc. The change happened in during the 1864 mintage and thus some of the coins are copper-nickel while others are bronze. This bronze alloy continued through the rest of the Indian Head series and into the Lincoln series.

The obverse is commonly described as featuring an indian head, but it is actually a depiction of Liberty wearing an Indian headdress. The reverse features a simple wreath with a stars and stripes shield that was introduced in the second year of the series (1860).

Most Expensive Indian Head Cents
The Indian Head series was produced exclusively from the Philadelphia mint up until the last two years of the series. Approximately 3% of the 1908 pennies were minted in San Francisco, and then approximately 2% in 1909. Consequently, the 1908S and especially the 1909S Indian Head Cents sell for a premium. 1877 was a low mintage year for the Philadelphia Mint, and thus the 1877 pennies are also very valuable. Other valuable coins in the series include the 1864 L penny - The L is the engraver's initial that was placed on the obverse below the bottom feather of the headdress. It appeared only on a portion of the bronze coins. Then there are special variations that are valuable such as the 1873 double liberty die.

Least Expensive Indian Head Cents
The least expensive Indian Head Cents are the 1907 mintage where more than 100 million coins were produced. Generally speaking, any coins minted in Philadelphia from 1887 through the end of the series in 1908 were minted in relatively high numbers and thus are less expensive than earlier coins.

A Gold Alternative
It is possible to get a lower mintage Indian Head Cent in Extremely Fine or Uncirculated condition for less than a hundred dollars depending on the mintage year. However some collectors are uncomfortable paying a premium for a copper coin. Fortunately there is a gold alternative - the Type III Indian Head Gold Dollar (also called the Princess Dollar) which was minted from 1856 to 1889. The Indian Head Gold Dollar shares similar design features to those of the Indian Head Cent, and both coins were designed by Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre. Both Longacre coins feature a graceful Indian on the front, and a classic wreath design on the back. The only significant differences between the two coins are their metal content and their size. At 15 mm, the Indian Head Gold Dollar is visibly smaller than the 19mm Indian Head Cent, but the gold content more than makes up for what it lacks in size.

There are plenty of common dates in the Type III Indian Head Gold Dollar series, so many are readily available for a slight premium over their gold value. The least expensive mintage years are 1856, 1862, and 1857. The most expensive years are 1861D, 1856D, and 1860D. Be aware that Indian Head Gold Dollars were often used as jewelry, and many have drill or punch holes so they could be hung as pendants. These "hole" coins are worth considerably less to collectors - this is true even for the less common mintage years. But for those considering purchasing a gold dollar as jewelry, these holed coins can be a bargain.

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Indian Head Penny Obverse L Beginning with some of the bronze coins in 1864, the engraver's initials were placed on the obverse below the bottom feather of the headdress. The initials remained through subsequent years as this 1897 penny illustrates.

Indian Head Penny Reverse Compare The reverse of the 1859 Indian Head Cent on the left features a laurel wreath (sometimes called an olive wreath). Beginning in 1860 the wreath was changed to an oak wreath, and a shield was placed at the top. as the 1899 cent on the right illustrates. Also note the color difference due to the alloys used. From 1859 until 1864, the Indian Head cent contained 12% nickel and 88% copper. In 1864, the alloy was changed to bronze, which is 95% copper, and 5% tin and zinc.

Indian Head Dollar and Penny For those who collect gold coins, the Type III Indian Head Gold Dollar (AKA the Princess Dollar) is a great alternative to the Indian Head Cent. At 15 mm, the Indian Head Gold Dollar is significantly smaller than the 19 mm Indian Head Cent. But the coins share similar designs. They were both designed by Chief Engraver James Barton Longacre.

Indian Head Gold Dollar The obverse of the Type III Indian Head Gold Dollar also known as the Princess Gold Dollar. Like the Indian Head Cent, The Princess Dollar was also designed by James B. Longacre (three years earlier) and features a similar depiction of liberty wearing an indian headdress. The reverse also has a similar design to that of the Indian Head Cent.