Sunday, May 15, 2016

Coins You Can Find - Indian Head Cent - Later Years and Beyond

Indian Head Cent Production Saw Big Ups and Downs over Last Three Decades

1909-S Indian Head Penny

In the postwar years, the heavy production of cents was scaled back, as hoarding ceased and some of the slack was taken up by other base-metal coins. Nevertheless, the various issues of small coins, at that time not redeemed by the government, caused another overabundance in commerce. The glut was not completely broken until the Act of March 3, 1871 allowed redemption of cents and other minor coins in lots of $20 or more. Pursuant to this act, over thirty million copper-nickel cents, of both the Indian Head and Flying Eagle designs, were redeemed. The Mint melted these for re-coinage.

Fifty-five million bronze cents were also sold to the government. Beginning in 1874, the Mint re-issued these in response to commercial requests for cents, lowering the demand for new coins. Drops in the price of silver brought coins of that metal, hoarded for a decade or more, back into commerce, also decreasing demand. Between 1866 and 1878, production only occasionally exceeded ten million; the 1877 coin, with a circulation mintage of 852,500, is a rare date for the series. After 1881, there were few redemptions of bronze cents, due to high demand for the denomination, though copper-nickel cents continued to be redeemed and melted.

In most years of the 1880s, there were large issues of Indian Head cents. The exception was in the mid-1880s, when poor economic times led to less demand for minor coins. No cents or five-cent nickels were minted after February 1885 until near the end of 1886. Production of undated dies into which the year of issue could be punched continued, and during the hiatus in coin production, Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber modified the design, removing light outlines between the lettering on the obverse and the rest of the design, among other changes. This led to two types for the 1886 Indian Head cent, which may be distinguished: on the Type I, the lowest feather on the obverse points between the I and the C in "AMERICA", while on the Type II it points between the C and the final A. Snow estimates that 14 million of the mintage of 17,654,290 were Type I, as were a majority of the 4,290 proofs.

The economic Panic of 1893 again caused a decrease in the number of cents produced, as coins accumulated in private hands were spent, creating a surplus. Aside from that, the final years of the series before its termination in 1909 were marked by large mintages, with 1907 topping the hundred million mark. A healthy economy in most years fueled demand, as did the increasing popularity of coin-operated machines.

By the early 20th century, the cent was accepted across the nation, but by law production of the cent was limited to the Philadelphia Mint. Treasury officials sought removal of this restriction, and for an increase in the annual appropriation to purchase base metals for production of the cent and nickel—the amount expended had remained the same since 1873, although demand for cents had greatly increased. By the Act of April 24, 1906, the Mint received permission to strike base metal coins at any mint, and the appropriation was quadrupled to $200,000. Small quantities of cents were struck at the San Francisco Mint in 1908 and 1909.

Congress passed legislation in 1890 allowing the Mint to alter designs that had been in use for 25 years without the need for legislative authorization.

But it wasn't until 1908, with his fervor to redesign American coinage, that President Roosevelt turned his attention to the cent. The centennial of the birth of assassinated president Abraham Lincoln would occur in February 1909, and large numbers of privately manufactured souvenirs were already being issued. Many citizens had written to the Treasury Department, proposing a Lincoln coin, and Roosevelt was interested in honoring his fellow Republican. This was a break with previous American numismatic tradition; before the Lincoln cent, no regularly circulating U.S. coin had featured an actual person.

In late 1908, Roosevelt sat for sculptor Victor David Brenner, who was designing a medal for the Panama Canal Commission. It is uncertain how Brenner was selected to design the coin, but in January 1909, Mint Director Frank A. Leach hired him to design a Lincoln cent. This went into circulation later in 1909, putting an end to the Indian Head cent series.

Photo courtesy of Coin HELP!
Brief history of IHC from Wikipedia - Used under CC BY-SA license

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