Whether you are attempting to complete a 19th Century or 20th Century U.S. type set, one thing is for certain. You will need an Indian Head Cent to complete your collection and one couldn’t ask for a finer example of a coin that uniquely represents the United States.
The Indian Head one cent coin was produced by the United States Mint from 1859 through 1909 and was the second small cent issued by the U.S. Mint (the first was the flying eagle cent from 1857-1859). It was designed by James Barton Longacre as a replacement for the flying eagle cent due to striking issues with the previous small cent.
Though called the “Indian Head Cent”, the obverse design is not actually that of an indian but of lady liberty facing to the left wearing an indian headdress or feather bonnet. Longacre created what I like to term as the first truly American coin. By combining the symbolic features of liberty with the uniqueness only found in the New World, the new cent was unique from any other copper coin around the world and was easily associated with the U.S. Though Longacre employed a similar design earlier with gold coinage it was far from the common circulating status as that of the cent. The cent was a coin that every single American had available in their pocket. Additionally, the obverse design shows the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA as well as the word LIBERTY shown on the band across the bonnet.
The coin's reverse side shows ONE CENT within a 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. The mint mark is located underneath the ribbon, (Philadelphia issues carried no mint mark).
Types and Major Varieties
Though one might say the entire Indian Head cent series is one type there are actually two types due to composition changes.
The first type (or type 1) was a one year type coin minted in 1859. It had a composition of copper-nickel and a reverse design featuring a laurel wreath that was unique to just the 1859 issue.
|Type 1 Reverse|
The second type (or type 2) was minted from 1860 to 1864 and had a composition of copper-nickel. In 1860 the U.S. mint changed the reverse design from a laurel wreath to an oak wreath with a shield at the top and arrows within the binding ribbon at the bottom. This would remain as the standard reverse design for the remainder of the series.
The third type (or type 3) was minted from 1864 to 1909 and had a composition of bronze (a combination of copper, tin, and zinc). Changing of the composition also changed the overall weight of the coin from 4.67 to 3.11 grams.
General Market Notes
There are no key date or rarities for type 1 or type 2 coins and examples in a grade of VF are easily found.
In the type 3 series, the key date coins (excluding proofs & errors) are the 1877 and 1909S issues. Both coins had mintages below 1 million. If you wish to have one example in your set it will set you back a hefty sum. If cost is an issue, there is an ample supply of common date coins that won't dent your budget and most VF graded coins can be had for less than $15.
Of the more interesting coins is the 1908S issue. Besides being an undervalued semi-key issue for the series (with a mintage of only 1,115,000), it is also the very first U.S. cent to be issued from a mint other than Philadelphia.
One 20th century U.S. type set I've seen had a 1908S Indian Head Cent, a 1955S Lincoln Wheat Cent, and a 1974S Lincoln Memorial Cent. Essentially what they had was the first non-Philadelphia issued cent (or the first San Francisco Cent depending on your perspective), the last circulating Lincoln Wheat cent issued by the San Francisco mint, and the last circulating cent ever made by the San Francisco mint.