The Indian Head Penny is so called because of the image on one side. This shows Lady Liberty wearing a feathered headdress of the kind worn by Native Americans. The coin was first minted in 1793, when the indigenous peoples of the US were referred to as “Indians”.
The coins continued to be produced into the beginning of the twentieth century, and they’re keenly collected. That makes some versions very valuable indeed. So which coins command the highest prices – and why?
That’s what we’re going to find out! Read on, as we search out the most valuable Indian Head Penny ever. And we’ll also look at some other examples that have fetched big money.
Most Valuable Indian Head Penny
The most valuable Indian Head Penny ever sold dates from 1864. It was examined by the Professional Coin Grading Service, or PCGS, and was rated PR65.
The PR here stands for “proof” and refers to a coin that was never intended for circulation. Proof coins are particularly good quality, and these days, they’re mainly produced for collectors. But back in 1864, coin collecting was still a rare hobby, meaning proofs are harder to come by.
This coin was made towards the end of 1864. At this point, the details of the portrait were sharpened. And an L was added to the bottom of Liberty’s ribbon, behind her neck. The “L” stood for James Longacre, the designer of the image.
Only 20 specimens of this proof coin are known to exist, and they’re divided into three types. This coin was type Snow-PR2, of which there are thought to be only seven in existence.
The type is identified by a straight die line beneath Liberty’s ear. There are also distinctive die lines on the other side of the coin. They sit near the edge at around the 8 o’clock position.
The 65 in the coin’s grading designates its quality. A 65 coin is above average quality, with just minor strikes or hairlines located away from the image. It was also designated “red and brown in color. There are only three such coins in this color combination, and only one coin of finer quality.
This one came up for auction in October 2011. It sold for $161,000, including the 15 per cent buyer’s premium. And it’s an auction record for an Indian Head Penny that still stands to this day.
This 1877 coin was graded MS66. That means it’s a coin in mint state, with an above average strike and a “full mint” luster. It was also designated “red”, meaning that it had retained most of its original copper color.
1877 was the final year of a Depression, and relatively few cents were minted. Only 852,500 are believed to have been made – and some experts think the quantity was actually far lower.
Whatever the exact numbers, mint state survivors from 1877 are very rare indeed. The PCGS have certified only six examples as MS66. So when this one came up for auction in August 2007, it attracted considerable interest.
After frenetic bidding, it sold for $146,500, including the 15 per cent buyer’s premium.
Most cents in 1872 were made from older coins that had been melted down. As a result, the planchets – the metal discs – were of uneven quality, and the resulting coins often appeared streaky. Any good quality examples from this year, therefore, are highly collectable.
This particular coin is MS66, which means it’s in great condition and very attractive. It’s one of only two 1872 Indian Head Pennies graded at this level. And even more importantly, there are no known examples of a finer quality.
The coin came up for sale in August 2007. The possibility of owning a best-in-class coin saw one collector prepared to spend $126,500.
This particular coin came up for sale three times between 2003 and 2019. It dates from 1899 and is in exceptional condition, graded mint state – MS – 68 by the PCGS. This means it’s “premium quality” with a very well-defined strike, and no visible marks under normal magnification.
There’s some disagreement between coin experts on whether one or two coins of this quality exist. Many believed this one to be the sole survivor – and it seems there were plenty of bidders who agreed.
It was presented for sale in 2019, cataloged as the “ultimate bronze Indian Head cent”. And when the hammer fell, it had achieved a price of $108,000.
This Indian Head Penny is what’s known as a “deep cameo”. That’s a grading awarded by independent coin certifying authorities. And it means there’s rich “frosting” on the raised parts of the design. That contrasts with reflective fields for a very attractive coin.
This example was a proof coin, and it was graded 67+ by the PCGS. In other words, it’s an above average strike, with a full mint luster and only a few tiny marks.
This is the only example of a deep cameo Indian Head Penny across all dates and colors. That makes it something quite special. And when it came to auction in March 2021, it sold for $108,000.
This Indian Head Penny is another example that’s in rare condition. It’s a proof coin, and it’s graded 67 by the PCGS. It’s one of only two coins of this quality from 1877. And it’s also in the red color – the most sought-after hue.
If all this were not enough, 1877 Indian Head Pennies – in any condition – are considerably rarer than those from other years.
This coin came up for sale in February 2009. It sold for an impressive $97,750.
Another coin to make over $90,000 was this Indian Head Penny from 1890. This is another example where condition is key. It was graded mint state 67 by the PCGS. And it was also designated “red” – used for copper coins that retain 95 per cent or more of their original red hue.
It’s an attractive specimen, with a luster on both side of the coin. When it was offered for sale in 2020, the catalog enthused over its “unimpeachable beauty”. It was, claimed the auctioneers, one of the finest examples of an Indian Head Penny across its 50 years of production.
Collectors agreed. When the hammer fell, it had achieved a price of $91,063, including the buyer’s premium.
This 1869 coin is another to achieve the “red” designation from the PCGS. And it too is an excellent quality specimen, finely struck and achieving the grading of mint state 66+.
It’s a bright orange-red color that’s even across both surfaces. To the naked eye, it appears perfect. View it up close with a loupe, and you’ll find just a couple of specks.
This is one of two Indian Head Pennies from 1869 to achieve this grading, and there are none finer. So it’s perhaps not surprising that collectors got very excited when it came up for auction in 2019. It sold then for $84,000.
Over ten million cents were minted in 1868. But finding one of the highest quality is a considerably more challenging task.
Only 130 or so have been certified as having the sought-after “red” coloration. Amongst those elusive red coins, the gradings vary from MS63 to MS66. That makes this specimen the highest available quality, and one of only seven coins to achieve it.
It came up for auction in 2019 at an auction house specialising in rare coins. It sold for $72,000, including the buyer’s premium.
This 1873 coin is red and brown, rather than red. And it features what’s known as hub doubling – a double image of Lady Liberty.
Only two examples of this coin graded MS65 exist, and there are none higher. There is, however, one other 1873 Doubled Liberty, graded MS64, with the sought-after red designation. That means the question of which is the finest 1873 Doubled Liberty is open to some debate.
Whether or not this is truly the finest example, it’s a rare and special coin. And it made $69,000 when it came under the hammer.
This 1865 coin has a “fancy 5” in the last digit of its date. The horizontal line at the top curls upwards jauntily at the end. It’s the kind of detail that collectors love.
The coin is also excellent quality, graded mint state 66 by the PCGS. And it also earned the “red” designation, with a fresh orange-red shade.
There are plenty of 1865 Indian Head Pennies around. And even more than 150 years on, there’s no shortage of them in mint state either.
But there are only 14 known coins with the fancy 5 and this level of quality. And that meant this specimen was a hot pick for collectors when it was presented for sale in August 2018. The winning bidder paid $66,000.
This 1888 Indian Head Penny is an exceptional coin. It’s the only one known to exist in this condition – known as “gem” by collectors. It’s graded mint state 67 by the PCGS, and carries the coveted “red” designation for its rich color.
The next best examples are all graded MS66, and 12 are known to exist. Those that had come up for sale had been steadily gaining higher prices as the years went by. This example came up for auction in 2008, and the catalog noted that an MS66 example had sold two years earlier for $16,000.
In the event, the price achieved for this coin far eclipsed that. When the hammer fell, it made $63,250, including the buyer’s premium.
The Philadelphia mint produced nearly 4 million cents in 1871. But by then a shortage of coins meant that the vast majority went straight into circulation. Mint state coins like this one are therefore a considerable rarity.
This example is graded 66 by the PCGS and it carries the all-important “red” designation. Only two coins from that year have ever been found in this quality. And that made this example a great find for collectors searching for the ultimate 1871 specimen.
It came up for auction in January 2006. The winning bidder paid $60,375 to add it to their collection.
This 1860 Indian Head Penny is in genuinely exceptional condition. It’s graded MS67+ plus by the PCGS, which means it’s considered a “Superb Gem”.
Over 20 million cents were minted in 1860. That’s lower than the 36 million minted the previous year. But it’s still an awful lot of coins!
That just goes to show how much difference condition can make to value. A common or garden 1860 Indian Head Penny can be picked up for a few dollars. But when this coin came to auction in August 2019, it sold for nearly $53,000.
We’ve already heard that a whole lot of cents were minted in 1859 – over 36 million, in fact. So what does it take to make one of those coins really valuable?
The answer is condition. This coin was graded mint state 66+ by the PCGS. That makes it a rarity amongst a sea of poorer quality specimens. And for collectors looking to find an example of the Indian Head Penny from every year, it’s very desirable.
It was also an unusual design. Cents from that year had no shield on the reverse side.
It came to auction in February 2012 and made $34,500.
Penny for Your Thoughts
That brings us to the end of our look at some of the most valuable Indian Head Pennies ever sold. Color and condition are essential attributes for all these coins.
Most Indian Head Pennies are sadly not worth very much at all. But if you’ve got an example in beautiful condition, with all the details crisp and clear, it just might be worth getting it appraised. You never know – it could be worth a fortune!