As always, Indian Head Pennies are among the most popular of US coin series and this popularity shows no sign of slowing down. Experienced collectors and amateurs both enjoy collecting this series of coins. Indian head pennies can be collected at nearly every income level, and a complete set is not out of reach if you create a plan to pay for the key dates.
Indian head pennies were the coin of the realm during the Civil War, and were spent throughout the Old West as well. Holding an Indian Head Penny in your hand can make your mind race with thoughts about who could have spent it and what they bought with it.
Indian head pennies were minted from 1859 to 1909 and come in two distinct varieties. The Indian Head pennies minted from 1859 to the beginning of 1864 were made of 88% copper and 12% nickel, just like the Flying Eagle Penny. These copper nickel Indian Head pennies are thicker and heavier than the bronze types to come later on. They were designed to contain a full 1/100 of a dollar's worth of copper. In the younger years of our Nation, coinage was designed to have REAL value and people did not trust paper money because it had no real value. People often hoarded coins to the point where there was an extreme shortage of coins during The Civil War.
The 1859 Indian Head penny is unique in that it lacks the shield at the top of the wreath and bundle of arrows at the bottom of the wreath. This is the only year that lacks these components.
Because the copper nickel alloy created difficulties in the minting process, the penny's composition was changed in the middle of 1864. The new bronze pennies were 95% copper and 5% tin/zinc. The bronze coins were quite a bit thinner than the copper/nickel coins because of their higher copper percentage. The higher percentage of copper insured that the citizens were receiving a full penny's worth of copper in their coinage. The bronze composition remained until the coin was discontinued in 1909.
All Indian Head Pennies minted prior to 1908 were struck in the Philadelphia Mint. A small number of 1908 and 1909 Indian cents were minted at the San Francisco Mint. These 2 dates are the only ones in the series to bear a mint mark, and the 1908 S and 1909 S Indian Head Pennies are two of the scarcer key dates in the series.
The other main key date of the series is the 1877 Indian head penny. Only 852,000 specimens were struck and and in G-4 condition books for $985 or more. Many of the dates from the late 1860's and 1870's have low mintages and comprise the semi keys of the series. Average circulated bronze Indian head Pennies cost between 2 and 7 dollars a piece and the copper nickel ones average $10-$20 a piece. Coins in better condition sell much higher and many uncirculated Indian Head Pennies sell for hundreds of dollars or more.