Indian Head Penny Overview
Minted from 1859 to 1909, the Indian Head penny is an iconic and beloved coin series among collectors of all kinds.
The Indian Head penny was first struck in 1859, thereby replacing the short-lived Flying Eagle cent. The Indian Head penny was the second small cent, the previous “large cent” being the size of a modern half dollar.
The Indian Head penny was designed by James Longacre, who was the Head Engraver at the Philadelphia Mint.
The obverse face of Longacre’s design features a profile bust portrait of Liberty (not truly an “Indian,” as the name suggests) wearing a Native American-style headdress with “LIBERTY” printed on the headband.
Divided between the left and right sides of the coin is the legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” and below Liberty’s head is the year of mintage.
The reverse design began in 1859 as a simple laurel wreath with the denomination “ONE CENT” in the center. All subsequent mintages have an oak wreath instead with a bundle of arrows at the base and a shield at the top.
Both faces feature a denticled rim, a rim composed of small bumps
Like the design, the composition of the coin also evolved. From 1859 to 1964, the Indian Head penny was 88% copper and 12% nickel, with a mass of 4.67g. From 1864 to 1909, the coin was 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc, with a mass of 3.11g.
The diameter of 19mm remained constant throughout the Indian Head series and on into the Lincoln cent as well.
History of the 1903 Indian Head Penny
1903 is considered a late mintage in the Indian Head penny series, minted only six years before the introduction of the Lincoln cent in 1909.
In 1903, all Indian Head pennies were minted in Philadelphia. It wasn’t until 1908 that Indian Head pennies were minted in San Francisco. As such, no mint marks appear on 1903 mintages.
The Philadelphia Mint reports producing 85,092,703 coins in 1903, a fairly large output for the time. Such large outputs are characteristic of most late Indian Head penny mintages, as factors like the growing popularity of penny arcades increased the demand for cent pieces.
Design-wise, the 1903 mintage is typical for post-1859 Indian Head pennies, featuring the oak wreath and shield reverse.
Compositionally, the 1903 mintage is standard for 1864-1909-type pennies: 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. The diameter of 19mm and the mass of 3.11g are standard as well.
A common feature of Indian Head pennies, including the 1903 mintage, is an effect known as Longacre doubling.
Often seen on numbers and lettering on Indian Head cents, Longacre doubling usually appears in the form of a “lip” or “shoulder” on both sides of the design elements.
Some people mistake this for a double strike, thinking that they have found a doubled die variety. However, whereas doubled die coins are created after a die is hubbed a second time while not lined up perfectly with the first hub, Longacre doubling is simple a result of the design of the master die used for creating other dies.
No one is certain of the exact causes of Longacre doubling. One theory holds that designers would add details to the master die after it was already in place, creating a “lip” on the die. Another theory posits that the lip was created to increase the longevity of used dies.
Whatever the case may be, while true doubled die varieties can be quite valuable, Longacre doubling is very common and does not typically affect the value of an Indian Head penny.
See the below image for an example of Longacre doubling on an 1883 Indian Head penny. Notice also that the doubling can be seen on both sides of the letter in many cases; with a doubled die, the doubled image is usually only seen on one side of the design elements.
If you think you may have a true doubled die Indian Head cent on your hands, have it inspected by a certified coin dealer/trader.
Valuing the 1903 Indian Head Penny
Despite being over 110 years old, 1903 Indian Head pennies remain relatively common. That said, in the right condition, they can still be worth quite a bit.
As an average estimate, Good-4 to Very Good-8 grade coins are worth $2-3. Fine-12 to Very Fine-20 grades are worth $4-6. These ranges are where most 1903 Indian Heads will likely fall.
The value of the coin increases to $10 in Extremely Fine-40, $21 in About Uncirculated-50, $38 in Uncirculated-60, and $57 in Uncirculated-63. Proofs may be worth up to $144.
However, Indian Head pennies, like all copper coins, can be rated based on their color as brown, red-brown, or red. The color of 1903 Indian Head pennies can greatly impact their value.
To illustrate the difference color can make, an MS-65 1903 Indian Head penny classified as brown is valued at $185; the same coin, in the same grade but classified as red, is valued at $625!