1864 Indian Head
Cent - 1864 Bronze Indian Head Cent With L
TThe 1864 With L Bronze cent was introduced
quietly when the Civil War continued through out the United
States. Collectors did not notice the variety, and many
pieces circulated for at least half a decade before being
withdrawn from circulation. As a result, most pieces show
signs from circulation and uncirculated pieces, especially
with Mint red color remaining, are scarce.
Although identified by the addition of an
L, the initial for James Barton Longacre, the designer on
the ribbon, there are other differences with the previous
issues. Longacre sharpened the overall obverse design, and
the bust tip is narrowed. This is a feature that can also
be found on the first year of issue, 1859, but that was
discontinued for the remaining years of the Civil War. This
design remained essentially the same until the end of the
series in 1909.
It is possible that these were first made
when all old dies had been retired first, but it sounds
more likely that, at least for a short period, both types
were minted at the same time. The main reason was the excessive
cost of the Civil War, which had been raging since 1861
and which had largely influences the whole economic scene
of the full continent. The union, much wealthier than the
confederacy, had raised taxes to generate more funds for
the Civil War. However, costs had to be cut in other places,
and as a result the coinage dies were often used until too
worn to be still used.
The exact mintage of the 1864 with L Bronze
cent is not known. It is estimated that a total number of
approximately 5 million cents were made for circulation
in the latter part of the year utilizing this design. Walter
Breen estimated that this mintage was struck from 18 obverse
dies, but noted that there could have possibly been more.
Many circulated for longer periods, and as a result pieces
above Extremely Fine are scarce.
This is a very rare issue in gem grades,
with full Mint red color remaining. Most coins were struck
from worn dies, with unsharpened devices and rough services.
Although the Bronze composition was easier to strike than
the previously used Copper-Nickel, many pieces still come
weakly struck and are no more than MS-63. The color is a
very important factor of grading Bronze cents, especially
the early issues. The pieces with full, original Mint red
color are usually regarded as the most beautiful, and are
the most in demand.
One of the reasons that this issue is so
scarce with original Mint red color was the alloy that was
used. Often, this was not correctly alloyed and many planchets
show dark streaks from the uneven mixing of the alloy. These
streaks later toned to an uneven brown color, losing its
red designation. All these factors make this issue a true
rarity in gem red, with only an handful pieces graded red
by the major grading companies.
The proof is in a class of its own as well.
As collectors only bought sets early in the year, proofs
of this issue were not wanted. However, 20 pieces were struck
in two different striking periods. The first, originals
had nine pieces struck from two die pairs in 1864. Another
eleven pieces were struck under Mint director Linderman,
most likely in the late 1860’s when many rare issues
were restruck by him.
Three die pairs have been identified by Indian Head Cent
specialist Rick Snow. His numbers 1 and 3, of which the
first are eight examples known and of the latter just one,
are designated to be originals. Of die pair two are a total
of 9 examples known, making that the majority of pieces
is either on the market or in museums. The restrikes are
identified by a long, raised die line on the neck, and die
lines on the reverse are well. This reverse die was first
used around 1868, when restrikes of various other issues
were made as well.
The 1864 with L proofs is the rarest Indian
Head Cent, as can be expected. Pieces have been fetching
6 digit prices lately, and this issue attracts many collectors
when a single piece comes available. The originals, as can
be expected, are the most popular but there is not much
price differences. The restrikes are usually of better quality,
although the heavy die lines that are used to identify this
issue can be distracting. A proof coin of this issue will
be the absolute highlight of an Indian Head Cent collection.