PCGS 2051 - Indian Head Cent, No Shield (1859 only)

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Indian Head Cent, No Shield (1859 only)
from the Mountain Groan Collection
United States 1859 cent rev DSLR.jpg
from the Molly Malone Collection
United States 1859 cent rev JM.jpg

Navigate by PCGS number: Indian Head Cent, No Shield (1859 only)



Although the Flying Eagle cent seemed to be popular, officials at the Mint were not satisfied. It seems that higher points of the eagle were directly opposite of the wreath on the reverse causing striking problems such as weekly stuck coins. As early as 1857, changes were discussed as Mint Director Snowden proposed that Christopher Columbus should appear on the cent. Since no real person had ever been on a circulating US coin, it was believed that the idea of Columbus would not be approved. In 1858, pattern coins with a smaller eagle were designed by Assistant Engraver Anthony Paquet, but the result was not satisfactory. Sometime during the same year, James B Longrace, who was the Chief Engraver at the Mint, designed a new obverse which depicted an Indian. The reverse was a laurel (olive) wreath rather than the agriculture type wreath. These designs answered the problem of striking coins with design elements opposing each other.

The face of the design came from the 1854 $3 gold dollar, with the feather headdress changed. The idea of using an Indian headdress to symbolize "Liberty" was Longacre's and he explained it in a letter: To us it is more appropriate than the Phrygian cap; the emblem rather of the emancipated slave, than of independent freemen. of those who are able to say "we are never in bondage to any man". I regard the [the Indian headdress] then then emblem of America, as a proper and well defined portion of our national inheritance; and having now the opportunity of consecrating it as a memorial to Liberty, our Liberty, American Liberty; why not use it?

Several months after the patterns were made, on November 4, 1858, Mint Director wrote to the Treasury and stated that the Flying Eagle cent was not acceptable to the public and that the new designs of an Indian head motif was now ready and that the new design should begin January 1, 1859. It is interesting to note that an Indian head would appear on a US coin while out west the US was at war with the Indian tribes. It would certainly not be the last time that an Indian motif would appear on a US coin. It would also be 17 years until the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Despite some controversy on the new design, it went forward and in 1859, over 36 million cents were produced. Again, this was more than any other previous year. Demand was high. Despite the success, the design was changed again. In 1860, a shield was added to the reverse. Reasons for this change are unclear. It is suspected that striking was not an issue as there are many examples of fully struck 1859 pieces.

Part of the success of the Flying Eagle and the new Indian Head cent was the direct result of the Mint program to exchange old large cents for new cents as well as exchanging Spanish and Mexican fractional dollars for new cents. The intent was that the Mint would recoin these metals.

The copper-nickel alloy had now been in use for several years but it was tough on Mint equipment. The alloy was very hard and caused rapid die wear. The result was weekly struck coins. In 1863 the Mint observed that citizens readily used private tokens made of a softer bronze alloy (95% copper and 5% tin and zinc). And in fact, some earlier pattern cents had been stuck in the alloy. The Act of April 22, 1864 called for a new alloy and soon production of cents used the new alloy. This change happened sometime during the year resulting in two different alloys being used.

In 1866 production of Indian head Cents dropped of dramatically as coins in circulation met demand. For several years production was less than 10 million pieces. A Few years were slightly over 10 million with the low being 1877 when only 852,000 were produced. 1877 is now the scarcest of all Indian Head cents. A few years later demand picked back up and in 1879, production went above 10 million and stayed well above that number until near the end. In 1907, the mint produced over 100 million cents. It was the first time that any coin had been produced in such large numbers. Coin operated machines were making their appearance and cents were in huge demand. Until 1908, only Philadelphia made cents. Beginning in 1908, San Francisco made cents for the first time and in 1909, San Francisco produced the lowest mintage ever (309,000) for the Indian Head cent. Despite the fact that the Denver Mint had been around for a few years, Denver never made any one cent coins until 1911, the third year into the Lincoln Era. Over the course of its run, the Indian Head cent saw many changes. And with these changes, changes in government, etc, saw the desire for a change to the cent. In 1909, the Indian Head cent gave way to the most minted coin in the world, the Lincoln Cent.


James Barton Longacre 1844-1869

James B Longrace, Chief Engraver at the Mint, designed the new obverse which was adapted from his design on the 1854 $3 gold dollar and Indian Head (Type 3) gold dollar.


It is also now believed that Anthony C. Paquet, who was an assistant engraver, either designed the reverse or had significant input into the design.


Mintage: 36,400,000 plus about 800 proofs.


72 grains (4.67 grams), 88% copper, 12% nickel, 19 mm diameter, plain edge.

Catalog reference

Prices realized from past auction lots. (PCGS Holder)

PCGS Price Guide [1]

Link to


  • Breen, Walter H., Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U. S. and Colonial Coins, New York: Doubleday, 1987.
  • Snow, Richard E., Flying Eagle and Indian Cents, Tucson, AZ: Eagle Eye Rare Coins, 1992.
  • Snow, Richard E., The Flying Eagle and Indian Cent Attribution Guide, 2nd. edition. 1859-1869, Tucson, AZ: Eagle Eye Rare Coins, 2003.
  • Snow, Richard E., A Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents, Atlanta, GA: Whitman Publishing, 2007.
  • Yeoman, R. S., and Kenneth Bressett (ed.), A Guide Book of United States Coins, 59th Ed., Atlanta, GA: Whitman Publishing, 2005.
  • U.S. Mint