Some coins have a more
important place in the history of U.S. coin collecting
than their price and mintage might explain. The 1877
Indian Head cent is one of those coins, with an importance
way beyond its price or mintage.
Looking at the 1877 in a list of Indian Head cents,
it is easy to see some of its potential. The 1877,
with a mintage of 852,500, is clearly a more important
Indian Head cent date, as the only other date to drop
below the 1 million mark was the 1909-S. At $750 in
G-4, as opposed to the $425 price of the 1909-S in
the same grade, the 1877 is the more costly of the
two, despite a higher mintage.
The situation continues in Mint State, as the 1877
sits at $4,000 in MS-60, while the 1909-S is at $750
and in MS-65, the 1877 is at $13,000, while the 1909-S
is at $2,000.
Obviously, mintage is not everything in this pricing
and that makes sense, as the
1909-S, issued at a time of great interest in the
cents being produced at San Francisco, was probably
much more heavily saved than the 1877.
The importance of the
1877 is not, however, just in its price. The 1877
became an important coin, as it seemed to be the universal
choice of a rare coin that people might be able to
It must be remembered that this was 1877. The bulk
of the collectors at the time collected cents or lower
denominations. They went about their collecting one
of two ways - they either got the coins they wanted
from circulation or they went to the U.S. Mint in
the case of cents, which were only produced in Philadelphia
at the time, and purchased a proof.
The influence of the proof purchases can be seen in
the fact that while priced at $13,000 in MS-65, in
Proof-65, the 1877 is priced at just $6,750. Throughout
the Indian Head cents of the period, that trend can
be seen, as the proof will frequently be less expensive
than the Mint State of the same date. It's a case
where while perhaps low mintage, the proof would receive
better care and have a better chance of survival.
Purchased or found, any 1877 was quickly discovered
by the collectors of the day as a better date. After
all, there had been no Indian Head cents with a mintage
below 1 million and that would stick in someone's
Years later, coins like
the 1877 would be heavily hoarded, but this was 1877
and people did not generally hoard coins on the notion
that they would turn out to be valuable. While there
was never hoarding in the case of the 1877, there
would be a regular drain from the supply in circulation.
Coin collecting did not grow much between 1877 and
the arrival of the Lincoln cent in 1909. What new
collectors there were would start with Indian Head
cents in most cases and the 1877 would be the coin
The reputation of the 1877 grew with time and became
popular to depict on anything involving a rare coin.
I can remember an Avon bottle, but it was on almost
anything, be it a belt buckle or a U.S. postage stamp.
How much impact the fame has had on the price of the
1877 is hard to measure. Professional Coin Grading
Service has seen 64 of them in MS-65 or better. The
Numismatic Guaranty Corp. has seen 89. The numbers
suggest that the fame which creates demand produced
a higher price for the 1877 than simple numbers justify.
When you purchase an 1877, don't expect great value,
as it commands a high price - the price of fame.