The 1869 Indian Head Cent
In 1859, the U.S. Mint had just finished two years of striking millions of Flying Eagle cents. The coins were very difficult to strike well and the design was considered a “mediocre effort.”
Director of the U.S. Mint James Snowden suggested to Mint Chief Engraver James B. Longacre that an allegorical representation of Liberty might be the best remedy, so Longacre designed a young Miss Liberty wearing an Indian headdress, with the date and “United States of America” surrounding her. The reverse had the denomination “One Cent” enclosed within a laurel wreath.
Snowden liked the “Indian” but hated the reverse. He suggested an oak wreath with a patriotic shield atop it But Snowden wanted a patriotic coin. These were tumultuous times just before the election of Lincoln and the start of a long, bloody Civil War.
Longacre made the changes and in 1860 the coins began to be minted. As the Civil War hostilities began, all coinage, even copper and nickel, was being hoarded. People wanted “real money,” not paper promises to pay.
As the Civil War raged on and the nation was consumed by news of each battle, it was simply business as usual at the Philadelphia Mint. Between 1861 and 1865, the mint struck over 176 million Indian Head cents alone!
By 1869, only 6.4 million Indian Head cents were minted and, while slight modifications to the design were warranted, they were not made, as Longacre died January 1, 1869. His replacement, William Barber, made only very minor changes in May. But by that time, much of the production run for the year was completed, which is why the mintage dropped from more than 10 million in 1868 to just over 6 million coins in 1869.
The year 1869 also produced a rarity – the 1869 over 69 Indian Head Cent where the digits “6” and “9” were repunched over the original digits to make them stand out more. Both sets of digits display on some coins and this rarity increases value in each grade by 50% or more!
1869 continues to be one of the more difficult years from which to capture a great example of a nice, early Indian Head Cent.