The 7 Most Valuable Indian Head Pennies (One Sold for $126,500!)

Indian head pennies, also known as Indian head cents, are antique one-cent pieces that were struck by the U.S. Mint from 1859 to 1909. These historic coins feature the profile of Lady Liberty wearing a Native American headdress, which gives them their "Indian head" nickname.

Today, Indian head pennies are highly prized by collectors due to their beauty, historical significance, and rarity. Certain dates, varieties, and errors are especially sought-after and command substantial premiums. If you‘re lucky enough to have an Indian head penny, it could be worth a small fortune!

In this article, we‘ll count down the top 7 most valuable Indian head pennies and explain the factors that make them so desirable to collectors. We‘ll also provide a price guide, share record auction sales, and give some tips for buying and selling these classic American coins.

What Makes an Indian Head Penny Valuable?

There are several attributes that determine an Indian head penny‘s numismatic (collector) value:

  • Rarity: In general, coins with lower mintages are more valuable because they are harder to find. Indian head pennies from the 1860s and 1870s tend to be scarcer than later dates.
  • Condition: As with all collectible coins, those that are well-preserved in uncirculated condition with original luster are worth significantly more than worn examples. Indian head cents are graded on a scale from 1 to 70 by professional coin grading services like PCGS and NGC.
  • Mint mark: The vast majority of Indian head pennies were struck at the main U.S. Mint facility in Philadelphia and do not have a mint mark. However, cents from the branch mints in San Francisco (S) and (in one rare case) New Orleans (O) are particularly valuable.
  • Varieties and errors: Certain die varieties, repunched dates, and striking errors occurred during the production of Indian head cents. These unusual coins often sell for large premiums.

With those factors in mind, let‘s look at the 7 most valuable Indian head pennies:

1. 1888 Indian Head Penny, Last 8 Over 7

The 1888/7 Indian head penny is a dramatic "overdate" error. The coin was inadvertently struck with a die that originally had an 1887 date, which was then modified to 1888 by punching an 8 over top of the 7.

  • Look for: The distinct outline of a 7 beneath the last 8 in the date
  • Value range: $1,000 – $75,000+ depending on condition
  • Auction record: $74,750 for a PCGS MS63BN example in 2007

2. 1873 Indian Head Penny, Double Liberty

The famed "Double Liberty" 1873 Indian head penny is a doubled-die error. The words LIBERTY on Lady Liberty‘s headband and the date were impressed twice onto the die at slightly offset angles, creating a shadowy double-image on the coins it struck.

  • Look for: Distinctly doubled letters in LIBERTY, especially the B and R
  • Value range: $200 – $15,000+ depending on condition
  • Auction record: $69,000 for a PCGS MS65RB specimen in 2014

3. 1877 Indian Head Penny

The 1877 is the lowest mintage circulation-strike Indian head cent with only 852,500 pieces produced. This key date is scarce and valuable in any condition. Uncirculated examples are extremely rare.

  • Look for: Exceptional eye appeal and minimal wear
  • Value range: $1,000 – $5,000+ depending on condition
  • Auction record: $97,750 for a PCGS PR67RD proof in 2009

4. 1864 Indian Head Penny, L On Ribbon

Starting in 1864, some proof Indian head cents featured the initial "L" for designer James B. Longacre on the ribbon behind Lady Liberty‘s neck. Only a small number of proofs were minted and very few survive, making the 1864 "L" penny extremely rare and valuable.

  • Look for: The "L" on the ribbon below LIBERTY
  • Value range: $10,000 – $35,000+ depending on condition
  • Auction record: $34,075 for a PCGS MS65RD specimen in 2014

5. 1909-S Indian Head Penny

1909 marked the final year of the Indian head cent series. To close out the design with a bang, a limited run of 309,000 pennies was struck at the San Francisco Mint. The 1909-S is the only regular-issue Indian cent with a mint mark and it‘s considered a key date.

  • Look for: A clear "S" mint mark below the wreath on the reverse
  • Value range: $400 – $1,500+ depending on condition
  • Auction record: $97,750 for a PCGS MS67RD example in 2006

6. 1872 Indian Head Cent, Shallow N

In 1872, the U.S. Mint used two different reverse dies to strike Indian head cents – one with a bold "N" in "ONE CENT" and the other a more shallow "N." The shallow N variety is much scarcer and commands strong premiums from variety collectors.

  • Look for: A weak, less defined letter "N" on the reverse
  • Value range: $100 – $1,500+ depending on condition
  • Auction record: $126,500 for a PCGS MS66RD specimen in 2007

7. 1894 Indian Head Penny, Double Date

The last coin on our list is the 1894 doubled date Indian head cent. On this interesting error variety, the "94" in the date was partially impressed into the die twice, leaving an unmistakable double image. The 1894/94 is popular with both error and Indian cent enthusiasts.

  • Look for: Visible doubling in the "94," especially the 4
  • Value range: $30 – $1,500+ depending on condition
  • Auction record: $30,000 for a PCGS MS66RD example in 2010

Indian Head Penny Price Guide

Of course, not every Indian head penny will bring six figures at auction. Here‘s a general price guide for "regular" dates in various states of preservation:

  • Good (heavy wear): $1 – $5
  • Fine (moderate wear): $10 – $20
  • Extremely Fine (light wear): $25 – $75
  • Uncirculated (no wear): $50 – $250

Keep in mind, key dates (like the 1877), proof issues, and high-grade examples can be worth much more. So how do you know if you have a valuable Indian head cent? Here are some tips:

  • Magnify the coin to look for doubling, repunching, or other errors/varieties
  • Check the date, mint mark (or lack thereof), and condition
  • Consider having rare coins authenticated by PCGS or NGC
  • Consult a price guide like the Red Book to gauge retail values
  • DON‘T CLEAN YOUR COINS as this will ruin their value

Buying and Selling Indian Head Pennies

Whether you‘re just starting an Indian cent collection or already have a few key dates, there are plenty of opportunities to buy and sell these classic coins. Online auction sites like eBay, collector forums, and dealer websites are great places to shop around. For rarer dates and high grade examples, major auction houses like Heritage and Stacks Bowers hold regular coin sales.

When buying raw (ungraded) Indian head pennies, look for pieces with original surfaces, no cleaning or damage, and good overall eye appeal. Certified coins in PCGS and NGC holders have been authenticated and assigned a grade, giving you more confidence in your purchase. Just watch out for counterfeit slabs!

If you have Indian head cents to sell, consider offering them to other collectors via classified ads, Facebook groups, or dealer buy lists. For more valuable pennies, you may want to consign them to an auction house that specializes in rare coins. Remember, retail values depend greatly on current market conditions.

The Bottom Line

Indian head pennies are an enduringly popular series that‘s fun to collect and potentially very valuable. By knowing which dates, variations, and conditions to look for, you can assemble an impressive set without breaking the bank. And who knows – maybe you‘ll find a six-figure rarity in your pocket change!

Even if you never score an 1888/7 or 1909-S, Indian cents are historically significant coins with timeless beauty and appeal. With their iconic Native American imagery and classic 19th-century style, it‘s no wonder these old pennies are still cherished by collectors over a century after they were made. If you don‘t currently own any Indian head cents, consider starting a set today – you‘ll be glad you did!

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