Indian Head one cent coins were commonly called Indian Head pennies, and were minted in the U.S. for 50 years, from 1859 to 1909 at the Philadelphia Mint. For the last two years of their mintage, the San Francisco Mint also made them, though the 1909
Indian Head pennies were designed with the head of Lady Liberty in a feather headdress by James Barton Longacre, the top engraver at the Philadelphia Mint. On the band of the head dress is the word “LIBERTY.” Beginning in 1864, Longacre sharpened the details of the design and added his initial, L, on the ribbon at the nape of Lady Liberty’s neck. Longacre’s 1864 design continued until the end of the series, except for a few minor alterations in 1886.
In 1859, the first Indian Head pennies had the words “ONE CENT” within an olive wreath on the back, but from 1860 until 1909, the words “ONE CENT” were depicted in a wreath of olive and oak that is tied at the base with a ribbon. The Federal shield is shown above the words.
Early coins, those struck before 1864 were 88% copper and 12% nickel. During the American Civil War, everyone hoarded coins, and these mostly disappeared from regular use. In northern cities, private tokens made of copper were used instead. So successful were these copper coins, that in 1864 the penny was changed to bronze, which is 95% copper, with 5% tin and zinc. The weight of the coin was also reduced by one-third.
Almost two billion Indian Head cents were minted in the 50 years in which they were made. Though the 1909 San Francisco pennies (with an S on them) were made in the lowest numbers (309,000), they are not considered as rare as the 1877 issue of 852,500, because fewer of the 1877 coins were kept.
For coin collectors, the Indian Head penny is of interest for a couple of reasons. For one thing, many years of the Indian Head penny can be bought for around a dollar each, so they’re an easy way to get into coin collecting. However, the 1909 S ones and the 1877 ones are worth several hundred dollars each because of their scarcity. It is important to note that, particularly with the valuable 1877 coins, there have been counterfeits made, and so a certificate of authenticity is necessary to successfully trade this coin.
Indian Head cents issued from 1869 till 1872 are worth anywhere from 35 to 60 dollars depending on their condition. The 1864 coins bearing the “L” initial from James Barton Longacre are worth about $35. So the market for the Indian Head cent is one that appeals to coin collectors of all income levels.