A Dave's Collectible Coins Article

Indian Head Cent Key Dates & Mysteries!

Who is that woman on the Indian Head Cent?!

The Indian Head Cent was created by the artist James B. Longacre. In 1858 the pattern for the coin was approved by the Mint. When it was approved, the model for the coin had five bunches of oak leaves and a ribbon. After the coin was approved for minting, the artist made the images on the coin sharper and added additional oak leaves to the to the reverse. In 1959 it went into mass production. The 1859 Indian Head Cent had six bunches of oak leaves on the reverse and a ribbon.

1859 Indian Head Cent

Photo By Dave's Coins

There are a VERY FEW Indian Head Cents which have the year 1858 and have six oak leaves on the reverse. These are uncommon and valuable.

1860 saw changes to the coin. The oak leaf bunches were changed to a wreath of oak leaves and a bundle of arrows. Also, the US shield symbol is displayed. The reason for these changes were to give the coin, “… more national character”.

1860 Indian Head Cent

Photo By Dave's Coins

The Indian Head Cent was extremely popular in most parts of the US. The Mint struck hundreds of millions of them. During that period of history, the US was encouraging citizens to use exclusively US coins and give up earlier American coppers and small Spanish silver. Enthusiasm for the coin was overdone and the Mint created too many. In October 1860, The Bankers’ Magazine and Statistical Register reported that there were ten million cents in commerce in New York City above what was needed, and if anyone wished to order in bulk, they could be purchased at a discount.

The American Civil War played havoc with the nation’s currency. The glut of cents was no longer a problem and the cent was once again in great demand.

The Indian Head Cent saw a great run, being in production until 1909 when it was replaced by the Lincoln Wheat Cent.

Key dates for the Indian Head Cent include:

1864 “L”
In 1864, an “L” was hidden on the ribbon of the woman’s hair. The “L” was short for the artist’s last name, Longacre.

This is the greatest key date for this cent. It had a low mintage on only 852,500 for circulation and 900 Proofs for collectors.

A few of the 1887 Indian Head Cents were over-stamped to become 1888 Indian Head Cents. Just a small portion of the “7” can be seen under the “8” of 1888.

1908-S and 1909-S
Both of these had low mintage.

So, who is this woman on the Indian Head Cent?

Many theories exist. It is known that Longacre often used his daughter Sarah as a model. There is a story, often refuted, that when Longacre was in the Capital meeting with Native American men of note, he let Sarah join him. During this meeting one of the Chieftains let Sarah put on his headdress. Longacre quickly sketched this and it this image would later become the coin. (More on this story in the references below.)

Longacre was quoted, saying that the image of the woman that he used was inspired by that of the statue Crouching Venus. Still, the face on the Indian Head Cent doesn’t look like Venus.

Regardless of speculation, if we look at the coin and compare the features of the woman on the coin to that of indigenous peoples of North America, we see a fair likeness. In the picture at the top of the article, I show a photo of a Cree woman in headdress next to the coin. (Cree Native Americans come from what is now Canada.) Take a look at the coin and the photo and consider this for yourself.

What Indian Head Cents do you need to enhance your collection?


Coin Update – Key Date Indian Head Cents

Coin Study – 1864 Indian Head Penny Value

Los Angeles Times – New Input About Model for Indian-Head Penny

Wikipedia – Indian Head cent

Wikipedia – Cree

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