Indian Head Penny Overview
About five years before the start of the Civil War, a new one-cent coin that featured a Native American was issued. Commonly called the “Indian Head Penny,” it has now become a classic and steadfast piece of any coin collection.
James Longacre was the designer of the Indian Head Penny, the design of which saw first mintage in 1859. Longacre's penny would continue to be produced until 1909 when it was replaced by the Lincoln cent. The 50-year production run saw a change in metal composition during the Civil War due to shortages in metal.
On the obverse, a left-facing bust of Liberty is centered, wearing a traditional Native American headdress. The legend “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” is split between the left and right fields. Date of mintage can be found centered directly below the bust of Liberty near the rim.
The reverse is very simplistic with the main design featuring “ONE CENT” surrounded by a wreath. At the bottom of the wreath, there is a bundle of arrows and a bow. A small shield can be found at the very top of the wreath.
Copper nickel versions of the Indian Head penny were minted from 1859–1863. The composition would change in 1864 to a bronze-base metal. This composition would be used until the end of the Indian Head penny production in 1909.
History of the 1908 Indian Head Penny
1908 was the last full year of production of the Indian Head penny. Even with a full year of production, mintage figures were down a considerable number from previous years.
The mint at Philadelphia reports striking 32,326,367 Indian Head pennies in 1908. 1894 was the last time that this few coins were struck.
Although part of an old series of coins, the 1908 Indian Head penny was a somewhat modern coin that has many surviving examples. Mint state examples are not very uncommon and can be found both raw and graded.
Like other Indian Head pennies minted between mid-1864 and 1909, the 1908 edition weighs 3.11 grams and is 19.05mm in diameter. Denticles (small dots found on the surface of the coin, near the rim) are present on both the obverse and reverse.
Sources of Uncirculated Later Date Indian Head Pennies
1908 and other later-date Indian Head pennies commonly have some of the highest rates of surviving uncirculated coins. There are some very good reasons for this survival rate that can be attributed to both mintage figures and storage of the coins.
Starting with mintage figures in 1887, 30 million or more coins were minted annually, except for the year of 1894. This leaves many coins for consumers to use and greatly increased their presences in everyday commerce. This results in many people storing away the coins, sometimes only found years later.
When these coins are found years later, they are still in mint condition and are seen as something that should be saved rather than spent. This would lead to the coins being passed down or placed into collections still in uncirculated condition.
Of course, personal storage of the coins kept a fair amount in uncirculated condition, but banking techniques also changed during the late 1800s. Coins were kept in either a canvas bag or paper wrapper that kept them from being damaged. These bags and rolls of excess coins would end up in bank and business vaults for years and would never see circulation.
Fast forward to the introduction of coin grading, and now uncirculated Indian Head pennies are being taken and submitted for grading. Because many survived, supply stays relatively high and prices remain stable.
Also, because of high mintages and new storage methods, late-date Indian Head pennies will continue to boast high counts of uncirculated coins.
Valuing the 1908 Indian Head Penny
1908 Indian Head pennies can be found in many different grades, with lower grades having the highest population counts. Despite this, low-grade examples still have a premium.
Good 4 and Very Good 8 coins have a price tag of around $2–$3. Prices increase to $4.50 in Fine 12 and $6 in Very Fine 20. In Extremely Fine 40, the price doubles to $10.
Uncirculated coins are designated as either brown, red-brown, or full red. Full-red coins are the most desirable and bring the highest prices. In this article, prices for only uncirculated brown coins will be reported.
MS-60 coins have a retail price of $42 and MS-63 has a value of $65. A larger increase to $165 is realized when the grade increases to MS-65. PCGS has only graded one 1908 Indian Head Penny at MS-67 and it has a current value of $325.
To illustrate the difference between the full red versus the brown designation, we will examine the MS-65 version of each coin.
In full red, the coin has a price of $625, whereas in brown it is only worth $165. This is a difference of $460!