The Indian Head Cent, produced from 1859 to 1909, is one of the most popular 19th century U.S. coin series to collect. The obverse, which features a depiction of Liberty wearing an Indian headdress, provided the series with its familiar name. The Indian Cent was introduced after two years of production of Flying Eagle Cents, which had proven difficult to mint. The initial production of the newly designed small cents also experienced problems, resulting in some early changes.
Following more than 60 years of production for the large copper cent, the format was finally abandoned in favor of a smaller copper-nickel composition cent. The first design featured a flying eagle, but producing the design on the hard copper-nickel composition caused problems. Most of the pieces showed weakness in different areas, so another design was created to solve these problems.
After many different patterns were produced, it was decided that the design featured on Judd-208 would be the new design for the cent. This featured an Indian Head on the obverse, although correctly it is Liberty with an Indian headdress, the the inscription “United States of America” around the periphery. A laurel wreath appears on the reverse, with the denomination “One Cent” at center.
The designer of the coins was James Barton Longacre. Some sources say that the rendering of Liberty was based on his daughter Sarah. Although this has not been confirmed, the portrait shows similarities to drawings of her.
Regular production of the Indian Head Cent started in 1859, which became a one year subtype. Because of striking problems, the laurel wreath on the reverse was replaced with an oak wreath with a shield at the top. In 1864 the Mint decided to abandon the copper-nickel composition, and switched to a softer alloy of bronze. This type and metal remained in use until the end of the series in 1909, when it was replaced by the Lincoln Cent.
Coins produced at the San Francisco Mint for the final two years of the series. Until this time, all one cent coins had been produced in Philadelphia since 1793. This makes the 1908-S and 1909-S Indian Head Cents the first of the denomination to be produced at a branch-Mint. Although these issues are in constant demand, they are not as scarce as generally thought, since many were saved by people in the western states soon after they started appearing in circulation.