coins struck between 1859 and 1864 contained 88% copper and 12%
nickel. During this time, prior to the issuance of the Five-Cent
nickel coin, the cent was commonly referred to as a "Nickel" or
"Nick," for short. Due to the hoarding of all coinage during the Civil
War, the nickel cent disappeared from daily use and were replaced in
many Northern cities by private tokens. The success of these copper
tokens prompted the change of the cent to a similar metal. In 1864,
the alloy changed to Bronze (95% copper and 5% tin and zinc), and the
weight of the coins was reduced from 72 grains to 48 grains. (This
weight continued for copper-alloy U.S. cents until the 1982
introduction of the current copper-plated zinc cent.
The total production of the Indian Head cent was 1,849,648,000 pieces.
The 1909-S had the lowest mintage, only 309,000. It is not considered
as scarce as the 1877 issue, (852,500), since fewer of those were
kept, particularly in the higher grades.
In 1858, The Mint tested new designs for the cent. Although the Flying
Eagle cent which began regular production in 1857, is aesthetically
pleasing to collectors today, it was proving to be an unsatisfactory
design for producing thick coins in hard metal. The head and tail of
the eagle were opposite the wreath on the reverse. The coins did not
strike-up well, and if the striking pressure was increased, the dies
broke too easily. The Indian Head design was much better suited
because the design was more central and did not oppose the metal flow
with the wreath on the reverse. The Director of the Mint, James Ross
Snowden, submitted models for a new design, and Secretary Cobb gave
his approval to the Indian Head Cent.
The production of Indian Cents between 1859 and 1860 was large because
copper large cents and half cents in circulation up until 1857 were
being redeemed with the new cents. Some years production, like 1861
was based solely on the number of the pre-1857
copper coins that were
redeemed under the Mint Act of March 3, 1857, which allowed for their
redemption until 1860 (revised to extent until 1861).
Except for minor design changes in 1860 and 1886 the series continued
without major varieties from 1859 to 1909. There is a slight variation
in date in 1873, and a well known over date (1888/7). Most dates are
available in lower grades for relatively low cost, and are quite
affordable from the 1880s on.
Initially, the production of the five-cent nickel and the one-cent
bronze coin was limited by law to the Philadelphia Mint. An Act of
Congress passed on April 24, 1906, provided for the making of these
denominations at other Mint facilities.
The manufacture of the Indian Head cent at the San Francisco Mint in
November 1908 marked the first time this denomination of coins was
minted outside of Philadelphia. These San Francisco-minted Indian Head
Cents bear the "S" mint mark beneath the ribbon of the wreath on the
reverse. One-cent coin production did not begin at the Denver Mint
until 1911, during the third year of the Lincoln cent design.