Indian Head CentsPlease note that I refer to these coins properly as Indian Head cents rather than Indian head pennies. With the end of the clumsy large cents in 1857, the mint introduced coins that became known as nickels. These were not five cent pieces,(which were not introduced until 1866) but instead were cents struck in nickel. After a two year production of the flying eagle cent as the first small cent, the Indian head cent was introduced.
James Longacre -- designer of the Indian Head CentJames Longacre,the chief engraver at the Philadelphia mint designed the Indian Head cent. The portrait appears to be a young Caucasian girl with a native American style headdress. -- certainly she was no Indian. The model for the coin was thought to be James Longacre's daughter -- but the US treasury denies this on their website (citing lack of evidence). As the Indian head cent series was winding down, Augustus St. Gaudens designed a ten dollar gold coin also featuring a Caucasian in a headdress. In contrast, authentic native Americans appeared on the buffalo nickel in 1913 and the quarter eagle and half eagles of 1908.
Indian Cent reversesThe reverse of 1859 featrured a laurel wreath. This was changed in 1860 to an oak wreath with a shield. In 1864, the composition was changed to bronze -- 95% copper with the reminder tin and zinc. This composition and size lasted until 1982.
Collecting Indian Head Cents
Indian head cents are frequently collected by date. Although there are fifty years worth of cents, they were all made from the Philadelphia mint, with the exception of the final two years, in which some were made in San Francisco. Most of the dates are plentiful. The rare dates are 1877 and 1909S. Coins from 1866 to 1872 tend to be valuable. Although millions were minted each year, few were preserved.