J-302 1863 Indian Cent Pattern - J302 1863-L NGC PF63 CAC. R7+. This extremely rare, transitional, Civil War dated, Indian “With L”, copper-nickel, proof pattern cent is lustrous with fabulous eye-appeal. The piece has shades of gold, copper, yellow, brown, and tan on both sides. The strike is sharp, as expected for a proof coin with full details on the tips of the feathers, the diamonds, and the leaf and shield elements. For the grade, the surfaces are original and clean with no negative marks of significance. The premium quality of this coin is indicated by its CAC sticker, which also means that the piece fully merits the grade it was assigned.
The obverse of this pattern coin uses the die of later 1864 known as the “With L” on the ribbon. The L is for the designer, James Barton Longacre. The regularly issued “With L” coins are made of bronze. The reverse of the pattern made use of the regular design for the Indian cent. While it is not known why this pattern was struck, it is known that it used a proof reverse die that was used to strike proof 1869 and 1870 cents. Richard Snow discovered that 1871 was the year that 1863 “With L” cents were first made. It is believed that someone at the Mint decided to create a numismatic rarity, and the first 1863 “With L” cents were struck. In those years, there were many thousands of restrikes, unusual patterns, and mules made in secret at the Mint. Most of these pieces were smuggled out by employees and officers. Bowers estimates that 90% of the 19th century patterns were made and issued in secret. In addition to copper-nickel, the pattern was also made in bronze (J-301); oroide, an alloy of zinc, copper, and tin that resembles gold in color and brilliancy (J-303); and aluminum (J-304).
The American monetary system was in turmoil in 1863. There were coin shortages because gold and silver did not circulate at par and copper-nickel Flying Eagle and Indian Head cents were not often seen. Various other media substituted for coins including Postage Currency notes, Legal Tender bills, private script, encased postage stamps, and a huge number of privately issued tokens, some with patriotic designs and other with merchant advertising called store cards. The Mint officials tried to restore at least the one-cent coin to circulation. In 1863 the Mint issued 49,840,000 regular copper-nickel Indian Cents to alleviate the shortage. The following year 52,973,714 cents were minted. To further reinforce Snow’s research, it is highly unlikely in such an atmosphere that Mint officials would have the time or inclination to sit back and create fantasy coins like the 1863 J-302 pattern cent.
The obverse shows Liberty facing left in profile wearing a LIBERTY inscribed headdress. Her hair is combed back and over her ear and flows down beneath the truncation. A band with four diamonds is attached to the back of the headdress and comes over her hair past the truncation. She is surrounded with the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA with the date below. The reverse shows the denomination written as ONE CENT surrounded by an oak wreath with a Union shield at the top and a ribbon holding the parts of the wreath and three arrows together below. Dentils are around the periphery of both sides of the coin, and the edge is plain.
James Barton Longacre was born in Pennsylvania in 1794. When he finished his apprenticeship in Philadelphia as a bookseller and a banknote engraver, he worked on his own as an engraver of book illustrations and bank notes. His works included one on the signers of the Declaration of Independence and another on stage personalities. In 1830, Longacre began a series of biographies of famous men in the military and the political arena. In 1834 the result of this series became the National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans that was published in four volumes. Longacre and those who worked with him became famous because of this work. In 1844 Longacre came to work at the Mint. He was opposed by Franklin Peale, the Chief Coiner. Peale was probably responsible for some blundered dies that Longacre was criticized for making. Peal was involved in a private, illegal medal manufacturing business using Mint facilities. He was concerned that this new political appointee would interfere with his business, and he resisted Longacre’s appointment as Chief Engraver. Finally in 1854, Peale was fired by President Franklin Pearce. Longacre flourished in his position and was responsible for creating many new designs including the Indian Head cent, the Two-cent piece, the Shield nickel, the Liberty Head gold dollar, the Indian Princess gold dollars, the Three-dollar gold piece, and, the Liberty Head double eagle.
This coin is an important rarity that is desired by pattern collectors as well as advanced collectors of the Indian Cent series. The R7+ rarity rating indicates that 4 to 6 pieces are known to exist in all conditions. In its population report, NGC shows this J-302 pattern coin as the only one listed in PF63, and there are 2 better. At PCGS there are none in PF63 with 4 better. (These numbers do not account for crossovers or resubmissions.) At CAC, as of February 2012, there is this coin listed and 1 better.