Indian Head Penny Overview
The Indian Head penny, with its simple and attractive design, is a veritable piece of history and a favorite of coin collectors everywhere.
The Indian Head penny was first struck in 1859 and was the successor of the first small cent, the Flying Eagle cent.
Both the Flying Eagle cent and the Indian Head penny were designed by Chief Engraver James B. Longacre, an eminent figure in the history of American coinage.
“Indian Head penny” is actually a misnomer, as it is not an American Indian who is featured on the obverse but none other than Lady Liberty wearing a Native American-style headdress.
Running along the obverse rim is the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” and below the portrait is the year of mintage.The similarly minimalist reverse design saw two iterations.
The first simply featured the denomination “ONE CENT” in the center encircled by a laurel wreath. Coins with this design are Type 1 Indian Head pennies. The second design, which appeared in 1860, instead used an oak wreath with a shield at the top.
The composition of the penny also evolved over time. From 1859 to 1864, the coins were 88% copper and 12% nickel. Pennies with the oak and shield design and this composition are Type 2.
In 1865, the composition changed to 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. Coins of this composition are Type 3. Type 3 Indian Head pennies were minted until 1909, when they were replaced by the Wheat penny.
History of the 1882 Indian Head Penny
In 1882, 38,578,000 Indian Head pennies were struck, a sufficiently high quantity to ensure that examples remain relatively common in most grades.
That said, any coin this old is going to be dominated by heavily worn and low-quality examples, so a nice specimen can be difficult to come by.
It wouldn’t be until 1908 that Indian Head cents were coined anywhere but Philadelphia, so the 1882 issue does not display a mint mark.
There are some die-punching varieties recognized from this year, but these do not typically bring any higher premium.
The 1882 issue’s composition of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc is typical for Type 3 Indian Head cents, as are the diameter of 19 millimeters and the mass of 3.11 grams.
A common and somewhat puzzling feature of coins minted under James Longacre is what is known as Longacre doubling. This is often found on Indian Head pennies and usually appears as a sort of lip or shoulder on both sides of the lettering and dates.
Indian Head pennies displaying Longacre doubling are sometimes mistaken for doubled die varieties, although there is a difference.
True doubled die coins are the result of the way a die is hubbed. While being hubbed, the die is struck in two slightly different locations, creating a doubled appearance on the die’s design which then transfers to the coins.
Longacre doubling, though the origin is not certain, appears to rather be an intentional modification to the master die, either the result of the fine-tuning of the master die design or a method for extending the life of the die.
Whereas a true doubled die variety may raise the value of a coin, Longacre doubling is considered typical and will not likely come with any added premium.
An example of Longacre doubling on an Indian Head penny obverse. Image source: http://www.error-ref.com/longacre-s-doubling/
Valuing the 1882 Indian Head Penny
1882 is one of the more common issues from the series, and its value reflects that; however, the market for Indian Head cents is stable, and any specimen in reasonably fair condition is sure to fetch a decent price.
Good-4 to Very Good-8 examples are worth between $5 and $6. The value increases to $8.25 in Fine-12, $11 in Very Fine-20, $25 in Extremely Fine-40, and $35 in About Uncirculated-50.
Uncirculated (MS-60) examples are valued at $60, and Uncirculated (MS-63) examples are worth $92. Proofs may bring as much as $153.
As is the case with any copper coin, the value of your Indian Head cent may be higher if it displays a reddish luster. An Indian Head cent may be classified as Brown, Red-Brown, or Full Red, the latter being the most valuable.
To illustrate the difference this coloring can make, let’s examine an MS-65 grade 1882 penny. In Brown, it is valued at $290. In Red-Brown, the value jumps to $475. The same coin in Full Red is worth a nice $1,400.
Full Red specimens for this issue are quite rare, but even a Red-Brown designation can drastically increase the value of your coin.