The Indian Head cent, also known as an Indian Head penny, replaced the Flying Eagle Cent in 1859. It was designed by James Barton Longacre, the Chief Engraver at the Philadelphia Mint. In 1860, the wreath was altered and a small shield was added to the top of the reverse. From 1859-1864, the cents were made of a mixture of copper-nickel. The planchets were thick and the color was much lighter than the dark copper of Large Cents. In 1864, partly in response to the privately issued Civil War tokens, the weight of the Indian cent was reduced and the metal composition reverted to bronze, a nearly pure copper alloy. In 1909, the Indian Head cent was replaced by the Lincoln cent, designed by Victor D. Brenner.

Minted for over 50 years, Indian Head cents are widely considered the most beautiful copper coins in American history. These historic cents were the nation's first coinage tribute to the noble, proud American Indian. The design represented the first time that official United States Mint coins featured a distinctly American motif.


Liberty head wearing an Indian feather hat. By numismatic legend, the facial features of the goddess Liberty on the obverse of the Indian Head cent were based on the features of Longacre's daughter Sarah; the tale runs that she was at the mint one day when she tried on the headdress of one of a number of Native Americans who were visiting, and her father sketched her. However, Sarah Longacre was 30 years old and married in 1858, not 12 as in the tale, and Longacre himself stated that the face was based on a statue of Venus in Philadelphia on loan from the Vatican. He did often sketch his elder daughter, and there are resemblances between the depictions of Sarah and the various representations of Liberty on his coins of the 1850s. Regardless of who posed for Longacre, the facial features of the "Indian" are essentially Caucasian, meaning that a white woman wears the headdress of a Native American man.

Towards the end of minting 1886 pennies a visible change in the design was adopted. Placement of the feathers in the headdress and how they relate to the lettering along the rim was redesigned.

Up until then the last feather of the headdress pointed between the "I" and "C" of America, known as Type I. The new design now points the last feather between the "C" and "A" of America creating the Type II variety.



Shield at the top, facial value in the middle. A knot ties the oak wreath and holds arrows.

Mintmark of San Francisco Mint (S) located below the wreath. Philadelphia Mint specimens struck without mint mark.



1 Cent

Indian Head Cent, with shield
KM# 90a Schön# 117a
Material Bronze
Weight 3.11 g
Diameter 19 mm
Thickness -
Shape round
Alignment Coin
Philadelphia Mint (no mintmark)
San Francisco Mint (S)

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