Silver Dollar Finder
Home & Contents / Silver Dollar Auctions / Gold & Silver Bullion Auctions / Other Coin Auctions / Online Coin Buying Guide / Coin Grading
Popular Cent Coins: Indian Head and Lincoln "Wheat" Cents
Indian Head Cents
The Indian Head design was first used in 1859 to replace the Flying Eagle cent. The coin was struck on the same copper-nickel alloy as the Flying Eagle cent for the first 5 years, from 1859 to 1864. A bronze alloy of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc was used thereafter from 1864 to 1909. The coin faced widespread popularity as the design was appealing and symbolic of American culture. The small size proved far more convenient than the earlier large cents it replaced. These large cents were approximately the size of a modern dollar coin and were unpopular with the public for that reason.
Red or Brown? Like other
copper coinage, Indian Head cents initially had a bright red-orange
surface when minted, but quickly toned to a dull brown color as the
copper oxidized. Well-preserved coins may have kept some of
their initial color, particularly if they were kept in a dry
climate. These coins are usually described as "red" cents in coin
listings, and are worth slightly more than coins of the same grade that
have turned "brown."
Lincoln Wheat Cents
Abraham Lincoln was placed on the cent starting in 1909 to commemorate his 100th birthday. The cent was the first circulating US coin to bear a portrait of a historical figure. Previous coins showed a symbolic image representing liberty, rather than a specific person. The reverse contained the words "One Cent", enclosed by two wheat stalks. This coin series is often described as "Wheat Cents" in order to avoid confusion with modern Lincoln cents which show the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse.
Most dates and mint marks are fairly common, making it possible for collectors to purchase coins in the uncirculated grades at reasonable prices. Rare dates include the 1909-S, 1909-S V.D.B. (the designer's initials), 1914-D, 1922 (no "D"), and 1931-S. As with other coins, untarnished "red" coins typically sell for more than similarly-graded tarnished "brown" cents. Beware that some "red" cents may have been cleaned. Lincoln cents are often collected and sold in roles, or in completed sets by year. Circulated cents are often sold in large volumes. Often the seller will advertise the bags as "unsearched", with the insinuation that particularly valuable date/mint mark combinations await the patient collector. Collectors may indeed find some less common dates, but should not expect to find a 1909-S V.D.B cent inside!
Lincoln Wheat Cents can be purchased from local coin stores, through mail-order vendors, or through online auctions. This site contains a page for online auctions and price links for Indian Head and Wheat Cents.
Jefferson "War" Nickels
Due to a scarcity of nickel and copper during World War II, Congress
altered the alloy of the nickel from its usual composition of 75% copper,
25% nickel to 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese.
Well-preserved coins have a bright silvery appearance and circulated coins
will quickly oxidize to a dark color. These coins were minted from
1942 to 1945. They can be distinguished from typical nickels by a
large mint mark on the reverse above monticello. They were struck as
the Philidelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints. This coin series
marked the only time the United States has issued a 5 cent coin containing
silver since the half-dime was discontinued in 1873. It was also the
first time the mint used a "P" mint mark for coins minted in
Philidelphia. Coins struck at the Philidelphia mint typically
contained no mint mark until 1979.