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the 1868 Indian head cent

Clackamas1Clackamas1 Posts: 619 ✭✭✭✭✭

This is from a Heritage 2008 catalog and a good piece of history I thought to share.
"The 1868 Indian cent is yet another reminder that sometimes mintage figures do not tell the whole story--and that, in fact, sometimes mintage figures can completely obfuscate the truth.
Before the passage of the Mint Act of March 3, 1871, minor nickel and bronze coinage was legal tender only to an extremely limited extent. Bowers' Guide Book of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents explains:

"Between 1868 and 1869, more than three million bronze cents and two-cent pieces were turned into the Mint for melting. A flaw in the Mint Act of April 22, 1864 failed to give any redemption clause for the coins. At that time the cent was given a 10¢ legal tender limit, and that was lowered to only 4¢ the next year. The banks could refuse to take the cents in from merchants and, as Carothers [Fractional Money] notes, many likely did. As a result, the Mint was the buyer of last resort and obliged itself to buy and melt the coins. This was done without any authorization from Congress, but it helped to solve the oversight.

"The effect of this was the wholesale melting of all the bronze issues. Many of the recently issued coins went straight back to the Mint to be melted. Over the next 10 years, more than 55 million bronze cents were melted; these mass melting have had a great impact on the availability of this date [1869] as well as all others of the era."

The Mint Act of March 3, 1871, required the Mint to redeem the older minor coins in any quantity. At first the coins redeemed--older large cents and half cents, copper-nickel cents, bronze two cents, and nickel three and five cents--were melted and recoined into new three and five cent nickels and bronze cents. But by 1874, as less of the pre-1864 coinage was turned in, the Mint realized it could just reissue the turned-in coins without resorting to recoining.
As it applies to the Indian cents of the 1860s and 1870s, therefore, we see two kinds of rarities--those created by wholesale meltings, and those created by smaller mintages that resulted from the reissuance of older cents--with some overlap between the two kinds.
All of the foregoing serves to help understand today why an 1868 Indian cent, with a mintage of more than 10 million examples, is today generally found in grades lower than Fine. Bowers notes that many VF-AU survivors were destroyed in the 1960s when "unscrupulous people" wire-brushed them to simulate mint luster."


  • rickoricko Posts: 98,724 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Interesting....Thanks for the historical information. I was not aware of this issue, reclaim, melt/re-issue cycle. Cheers, RickO

  • TurtleCatTurtleCat Posts: 4,583 ✭✭✭✭✭

    That is an interesting story and it’s interesting to see how some practical decisions made back then impacted people like us over a century later. These are the kind of historical notes I really enjoy reading.

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