For U.S. coin collectors, the Civil War provides collecting
opportunities for all budgets. If there’s a single coin type that’s
symbolic of the era, it’s the Indian Head copper-nickel cent.
The Indian Head cent debuted in 1859, and in 1860 its reverse was
modified with the adoption of a different wreath and addition of a
shield. Indian Head copper-nickel cents are occasionally referred to
in old literature as “white cents” or even “nicks” because of their
tan color. In the later part of 1864, the copper content was increased
and nickel removed entirely, and the bronze Indian Head cents of 1864
and after regained a familiar copper color.
The cent was a workhorse denomination in the mid-19th century. The
Philadelphia Mint struck more than 10 million cents in 1861,
increasing that number to more than 28 million the next year and
nearly 50 million in 1863, yet hoarding was still rampant. In 1864,
when the composition switched to bronze, more than 52 million Indian
Head cents of both alloys were struck.
Today, Civil War era cents are widely available and, in Good 4
condition, a six-coin 1861 to 1865 set of Indian Head cents, including
both 1864 alloys — one in bronze and one in copper-nickel — can easily
be assembled for less than $100.
For a collector looking for a great type coin, nice About
Uncirculated 58 cents, especially the 1862 and 1863 coins, can be
found for under $100.
The 1861 Indian Head cent is exciting, representing the first year
of the Civil War, and it has a relatively low mintage compared to
later Civil War Indian Head cents. A handsome Mint State 63 example
realized $352.50 at a Dec. 1, 2012, auction, while a gorgeous MS-65
example with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating
quality in the grade brought $1,265 last year at a different Heritage auction.
Mint State Indian Head copper-nickel cents, especially in lower Mint
State grades, tend to have spots because of the high nickel content.
Also, grades for Mint State Indian Head copper-nickel cents don’t
include color designations of red, red and brown, or brown. While some
color variations are seen on copper nickel cents, they are not as
pronounced as on the later 1864 to 1909 Indian Head bronze cents.
Also collectible are Civil War tokens. These thin copper tokens were
privately issued and are generally cent-sized. As hoarding of regular
issue coins reduced merchants’ abilities to make small change, these
tokens served as substitutes. Congress responded by passing a law in
1864 forbidding private individuals from issuing metallic objects
“intended for the use and purpose of current money.” These tokens
enjoy an active following today and circulated examples can be found
for less than $20. ■