Indian Head pennies
I have a collection of what is known as Indian Head cents. I even have the rarest date which is 1877. As with most collectibles there is a story to 'be had about them. This article will deal with the history surrounding the Indian Head Cent. From the years 1793 to 1857 the cent was a copper coin about the size of a half dollar. The price of copper rose after the discovery of gold in California. The cent and half cent were the only profit centers for the mint and with the rise in the price of copper the Mint began issuing coins in 1857 which were 12% nickel and 88% copper. The new coins were called Flying Eagle cents and they were almost the same size as modern pennies. 1858 the Indian Head cent was born. James Longacre was the designer. James wrote a letter to the mint of the time - James Snowden - in which he said that "...’the feathered tiara is characteristic as the primitive races of our hemisphere as the turban is of the Asiatic.” He went on to say that we "...now have the opportunity of consecrating it as a memorial of Liberty- Our Liberty."
When the Civil War broke out in America the metal nickel became scarce. In 1864 Congress acted and a bronze metal alloy was added to the Indian Head Cents. President Lincoln signed the Coinage Act of 1864 making base metal legal tender for the first time. After the war the cent became popular and many millions of Indian head cents were created. In 1877 a poor economy led to decreased demands for cents and the production of Indian for that year was only about 800,000. I purchased an example of that coin for $90 a number of years ago at Macy's. Ninety dollars for a penny! I believe it was a good investment.
There are other dates of that coin which merit attention. In 1864 as mentioned the copper - nickel coins changed to bronze. Also the letter L was added to the obverse in honor of the designer James B. Longacre. Although the composition of the coins changed in 1864 that does not mean there were no examples of the L on the obverse made with copper. There have been five examples found so be on the lookout for that rarity.
During the Civil War a flood of metal tokens were issued by merchants and they were accepted as legal tender. After the war two and three cent pieces were continued and the Indian Head penny became very popular. The panic of 1893 caused a decrease in the number of Indian Heads produced. Those in private hands created a surplus. The development of penny arcades became a factor in the use of Indian head cents.
Indian Head cents are one of the most -if not the most collectible coins among numismatists both professional and amateur. There are some very valuable coins among them. So if your grandmother - like mine was - was a collector of them you should feel happy they were passed on to you. You won't find them in change anymore. The largest sale price for an Indian Cent was $161,000. It was for a proof specimen of the 1864 L date. As Madonna sang in “Material Girl” - "Only boys who save their pennies make my rainy day." She probably did not mean Indian Heads. But if you happen to find some, enjoy your collection!