The 1877 Indian Head Penny is consistently rated as the rarest penny ever because it had the lowest mintage. It was only coined in Philadelphia and they made less than a million pennies that year. Let’s learn about this priceless coin and verify the 1877 Indian Head Penny Value.
1877 Indian Head Penny Value Chart
|1877 (P) No Mint Mark Indian Head Penny Value
1877 Indian Head Penny Value Guide
The 1877 Indian Head Penny is the lowest mintage of the series except for the 1909-S. But since 1909 also saw pennies from other mints, 1877 represents the lowest mintage overall. Since the demand for pennies was so low that year, you can find lots of coins in high grades. And because so few are available, even coins as low as G 4 can sell for more than $1,000!
1877 (P) No Mint Mark Indian Head Penny Value
In 1877, the US Mint only made coins in Philadelphia, and they had no mint marks. They coined 852,500 Indian Head Pennies that year. Despite the name, the portrait wasn’t Native American at all, but she looked younger than earlier depictions and wore a man’s traditional headdress. This was worn by warriors, but we feminized it by renaming it the feathered tiara.
The record auction price for a Gem Brilliant Uncirculated Indian Head Penny (1877 GEM BU BN) was $71,300 in January 1999. An MS 66 RB auctioned for $36,750 in September 2018 and an MS 66 RD was $149,500 in August 2007. The most recent sale for a coin in this grade was $114,000 in August 2019. And so far, PCGS has only graded one coin as an MS 66+ RD.
1877 (P) Proof Indian Head Penny Value
Proof coins come in three styles – matte, mirror-like, and reverse proof. Matte proofs are sandblasted and have a grainy finish, often with toning from the sulfur-infused tissue paper they were packaged in. They were coined from 1909 to 1917 to accommodate the extra curves and high relief of beautified American coins. Reverse proof coins have frosted fields.
They also have mirror-like devices, and this contrast is achieved via computerized lasers, a technique that began in 1971. The original mirror-like proofs were made by dipping dies in acid to frost the devices while the field was polished with horsehair brushes until they shone like mirrors. For both proofs and reverse proofs, the planchet is burnished before striking.
To get this effect, the planchets are tumbled in a vat filled with stainless steel balls then rinsed off. Let’s discuss the acid frosting. With every strike of the press, this haziness fades a little, so the first 50 to 100 have the highest haze and are graded as Deep Cameo by PCGS or Ultra Cameo by NGC, describing the extreme contrast level between the device and the field.
Recognizing the Reflective Proof Pennies of 1877
The next 50 to 100 will be graded as Cameo coins, while the rest are regular red proofs. For reference, shiny business strike coins made with unburnished planchets might be graded as PL for Proof-Like or DPL for Deep-Proof-Like. These are usually selected for Uncirculated Sets before they’re sent to banks, and are sold directly to collectors as PDS sets, one of each.
In 1877 Indian Head Penny Proofs were still mirror-like, coined using the old acid-pickling method. And in 1877, the Philadelphia Mint only made 900 of these coins, but since proof coins are almost always in secure display cases, they maintain their condition, which means lots of samples exist in high grades. This brings their prices lower than business strike coins.
It’s rare to find a brown proof coin, but 1877 was almost 150 years ago, so faded samples are starting to pop up. The record sale for a regular PR 67 BN was $8,400 in June 2018. A PR 67 RB was $23,000 in August 2006 while a PR 67 RD was $97,750 in February 2009. But a PR 66 CAM was down to $36,000 in March 2020. It’s the highest known grade and only 3 exist.
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1877 Indian Head Penny Errors
Error coins can be extremely valuable, and since even flawless coins can go for $1,000 or more, mint mistakes are premium, even in low grades. They can occur at the hub, die, or planchet phase, since every stage requires multiple strikes. To explain, an artist starts by making his sketch into an 8” model of rubber, plaster, and epoxy before it goes to the mint.
There, a reducing machine spends several days shrinking it into a 19.05mm steel master hub. The hub makes master dies, which make working hubs, and eventually working dies. These working dies got their mint mark punched by hand until 1989 before machines took over that step as well. Then the completed working dies would strike planchets to make coins.
If the metal shifted between strikes at any stage, you’d get doubling or tripling errors that could drastically raise the resale value of the coin. And if the mistake happened on a die, it would transfer onto every coin the flawed die made, creating a variety with thousands of identical error coins before the error was caught and corrected. Let’s look at a few of them.
FYI, most Indian Head Pennies have a weak N on the reverse. This means the lower part of the N in One often fades in circulation. It’s not an error, it was just a poorly struck master hub that got transferred onto dies and planchets. It’s a high-relief spot that people touch a lot so it wears down. Also, cleaning and/or artificially re-coloring coins can reduce their value.
1877 (P) Indian Head Penny Obverse Struck Thru Error #1
A Struck Thru or Strike Through error happens when a foreign object slips between the coin and the die. It could be something random like a staple, some tape, or a piece of fabric. But it could also be a die cap where the earlier coin got jammed in the system. The result is a blurry design on the part of the coin that was obstructed. Graded VF 35 BN, it’s worth about $1,100.
1877 (P) Indian Head Penny Obverse Struck Thru Error #2
Here’s another example of the same error, but this time, the contaminant was a greasy residue that inadvertently lubricated the die. The grease caused a bit of slipping on the die and as the metal cooled, it left some faded tape-like denticle traces across the upper part of Lady Liberty’s face. It was graded AU 53 BN by PCGS, and this error coin sold for $2,340.
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History of the 1877 Indian Head Penny
Early US coins were expected to be at par with their face value, so a copper penny had to have 1c worth of copper. This meant the coins were almost as large as Half Dollars, which contained 50c worth of silver. But the gold rush raised the price of gold, silver, and copper too. So pennies were shrunk to make sure their melt price matched their face value of 1c.
That’s why in 1857, we ditched Large Cents (28mm to 29mm) for Small Cents (19.05mm). But reducing the size wasn’t enough – we also had to reduce the amount of copper in the coin from 100% to 88%, replacing the balance with nickel. But within a few years, the Civil War began. Nickel was needed for military equipment and weapons, which caused hoarding.
So once again, the metal composition of the 1c coin was changed to 95% copper with the rest in either tin, zinc, or both. This was in 1864, which means Indian Head Cents exist in both cupro-nickel (1859 to 1864) and bronze (1864 to 1909). And since 1864 was the transition year, you can find both versions of the 1864 Penny, making 1864 a key date for collectors.
1864 is also the year when copper coins finally became legal tender, payable as taxes. But 1877 is an important numismatic year for different reasons. Times were hard and there was little cash to go around, so the demand for coins was quite low. As a result, the mint only made about 850,000 Indian Head Pennies that year – we’ll get into the exact figures later.
The Importance of the Indian Head Penny
When the diameter of copper pennies was reduced in 1857 and nickel was added to the coin, the mint introduced a fresh design to go with the new size and metal mix. This Flying Eagle Cent was designed by James Barton Longacre, the Chief Engraver at the Philadelphia Mint. But it was harsh on mint dies and he was soon asked to replace it with the Indian Head Cent.
The Indian Head Penny was designed by Longacre as well, and lots of people assume he used his daughter Sarah as the model. There’s even a cute anecdote about this 12-year visiting her dad at work, spotting some male Native American visitors in their headdress, and trying one on. But the dates disagree. For one thing, Sarah was 30 and married when the coin came out.
The profile does look similar to Sarah, but Longacre often sketched his daughter and insisted it was a coincidence. Instead, he claims he based the portrait on the Crouching Venus statue. He said he chose the feathered tiara because he found it more symbolic of the Free American Spirit than the Phrygian Cap aka Liberty Cap, which was commonly used to depict Freedom.
But Longacre noted it was originally worn by Ancient Roman emancipated slaves, so it sent the wrong message. The design process was problematic, and Longacre submitted about a dozen pattern coins before his Indian Head option was selected and approved. 60 to 100 sets of these pattern coins were minted, but it’s unclear what happened to those test coin batches.
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How to Indentify the 1877 Indian Head Penny?
If you’re new to the coin dealing space, you might be unfamiliar with the jargon, so here are a few of the most important terms. A numismatist is someone who studies and collects coins, and the art is called numismatics. The heads side of a coin is called the obverse and the tails side is the reverse. Coins are made by striking designs on blank metal discs called planchets.
The images on coins are called devices and the words are known as legends or mottos. The backdrop or background of the coin is called the field, and its thin sides are called edges. The raised border of the coin is known as the rim or the collar. It might have reeds, and may have beads called denticles on the obverse and reverse. Let’s discuss the 1877 Penny.
The Obverse of the 1877 Indian Head Penny
The obverse (heads side) of the 1877 Indian Head Penny has a profile that represents a young Lady Liberty. She wears pearls on her neck and a Native American man’s feather tiara on her head. The initial L for Longacre is hidden in her hair. The words United States are on her left and Of America are on her right, with the date below her pearls. Her headband says Liberty.
The Reverse of the 1877 Indian Head Penny
The reverse (tails side) of the 1877 Indian Head Penny had a wreath of oak sprigs tied with a ribbon at the bottom. The ribbon also contains three arrows, and the mint mark is below the knot in the ribbon. At the top of the coin, the oak wreath opens up into a shield. One Cent is stamped in the middle of the wreath. The rim has denticles all around it, both front and back.
Other Features of the 1877 Indian Head Penny
In 1877, the Indian Head Penny was 95% copper with the remaining 5% in tin or zinc, occasionally a mix of both. It didn’t have the motto In God We Trust, and the designer’s initial wasn’t added until the mid-1860s. Older Indian Head Pennies weighed 4.67g due to their nickel content, but the bronze version was slightly slimmer and only weighed 3.11g.
As with all copper pennies, both the proofs and the business strikes (also known as regular strikes or circulation strikes) were graded by their color, with RD for red being the most valuable, followed by RB for reddish-brown and finishing with the BN grade for brown. Also, just in case you’re confused, PR is the PCGS grade for proof coins while NGC calls them PF.