Few American coins are as iconic as the Indian head penny, and for a good reason.
The Indian head penny combines two motifs for its main image that deeply symbolizes some of the most foundational American beliefs. The centerpiece of the coin’s obverse side is a portrait of Liberty (a cross-cultural symbol of freedom) wearing the feathered tiara that is the customary headgear of the indigenous people of America.
In the words of the coin designer of the Indian head and the then Chief Engraver at the Philadelphia Mint, James Barton Longacre (in a letter to the United States Mint director James Ross Snowden):
“From the copper shores of Lake Superior to the silver mountains of Potosi from the Ojibwa to the Araucanian, the feathered tiara is as characteristic of the primitive races of our hemisphere, as the turban is of the Asiatic. Nor is there anything in its decorative character repulsive to the association of Liberty … It is more appropriate than the Phrygian cap, the emblem rather of the emancipated slave than of the independent freeman, of those who are able to say “we were never in bondage to any man.” I regard then this emblem of America as a proper and well-defined portion of our national inheritance, and having now the opportunity of consecrating it as a memorial of Liberty, ‘our Liberty’, American Liberty; why not use it? One more graceful can scarcely be devised. We have only to determine that it shall be appropriate, and all the world outside of us cannot wrest it from us.”
One occurrence that emphasizes the symbolic importance of this piece is that Indian head pennies like the 1889 Indian head penny were already a popular collector’s coin, even in their first few decades of use.
The 1930s saw a switch in coin collecting, moving from a niche enthusiasm to a more widespread hobby amongst everyday Americans. This shift came in part due to the appearance of inexpensive coin albums on the market, encouraging citizens to begin seeking complete sets of U.S. coins as a low-cost pastime.
However, it’s been over a century since the 1889 Indian head penny was struck. This means that despite all the collecting over the years, there has been a marked decrease in the supply available today, especially for specimens in pristine collector-worthy condition.
So, what is the current value of the 1889 Indian head penny?
For a coin this old, most of the pieces available today will edge toward the lower end of the quality scales. Hence, while a good quality 1889 Indian head penny will be a coveted find for most collectors, specimens with lower grades and aesthetics are plentiful and far less valuable.
For these coins with an average to fair physical condition, you can expect dirt cheap prices of around $1.5-$4 per coin.
However, 1889 Indian pennies with a higher condition grade can attract significantly heftier ransoms, with circulated coins in decent shape selling for $7-$30 depending on condition, uncirculated 1889 Indian head pennies reaching prices that are over $60, and proof coins attracting prices that are at least $200.
This rising price for higher quality specimens is due in part to collectors seeking to complete their Indian Head coin collection with aesthetic pieces from all the Indian head coin production years and the consequently increased rarity of these high-grade coins.
1889 Indian Head Penny Rarity
Unsurprising;y, most coins from the 19th Century are relatively rare.
With at least a hundred years since their coinage, most of these coins have been broken, defaced, rusted, or lost. This can reduce the total supply of each coin type considerably and significantly increase the rarity level of the surviving coins.
However, you may be surprised to find that the 1889 Indian head penny is not as rare as you would assume it would be.
With a total of 48,869,361 mints, the 1889 Indian penny is the most minted penny of the 80s series. This statistic implies that of all the pennies produced in the 80s, coins from 1889 have the highest percentage survival rate today. The chances are that, although it’s a long shot, you could still happen upon the odd 1889 Indian head penny today while coin roll hunting.
This relatively low rarity level is why average condition 1889 Indian head pennies rarely sell for high prices despite being over 120 years old.
However, as you climb up the grade levels, the rarity of an 1889 Indian head penny can skyrocket fast. On average, even circulated specimens in good condition are hard to find.
The 1889 liberty head penny is made of around 95% copper (one of the more malleable and degradable coin metals.) Consequently, the majority of these coins produced in 1889 will have experienced a considerable reduction in their grade level. The only exceptions are those preserved impeccably after mint or within a few years of being struck.
As a result of this accumulation of circumstances, 1889 Indian head pennies in pristine condition are quite hard to find and typically attract an appropriately high ransom. Plus, uncirculated 1889 pennies are a step higher still in terms of rarity and are heavily sought by collectors everywhere.
Only a meager 3,336 proof pennies were struck in 1889, with only a tiny fraction of that still surviving or up for sale today.
1889 Indian Head Penny Mintage
All of the initial Indian head pennies minted from 1859 to 1907 (including the 1889 Liberty penny) were struck in the Philadelphia mint. Consequently, these coins, including the 1889 edition, do not have mint marks.
In 1889, the United States Mint in Philadelphia struck a total of 48,869,361 regular coins and a tiny 3336 proof coins.
1889 Indian Head Penny Value
Despite being one of the most produced Indian head pennies, the 1889 Liberty head coin can rack up prices that are significantly higher than most other coins with the same rarity level.
This unique situation stems from the fact that since 1889 Indian head pennies are almost all copper, the significant majority of the coin’s supply has experienced significant physical degradation and is no longer of much value to coin collectors.
Consequently, the small number of surviving coins in decent condition is relatively rare and can easily sell for up to 1000 times their melt value of only $0.022.
An 1889 Indian penny with a few nicks, bumps and some fading from its circulation years could still attract prices of up to $1.5-$4 per coin, provided the coin retains its relative structural integrity.
With coins in relatively fine condition, you can expect higher prices that can reach anywhere from $7 to $30.
1889 Indian pennies preserved in their original uncirculated condition are super rare to come by, and the prices reflect this relative rarity. You can expect a standard uncirculated coin to retail for at least $60, while higher grade and proof 1889 Indian pennies typically start at $200.
For an easy visual guide on what to expect in the coin markets when shopping 1889 silver dollars refer to the table below. Use the table as an approximate estimate of the market value of the 1889 silver dollar and as a general guide for making better market decisions.
|COIN TYPE⬇\QUALITY➜||MS 55-57||MS 58||MS 59||MS 60 – MS 61||MS 62-63||MS 65 or Higher|
|1889 Indian Head Penny||$1.5 – $4||$7 – 15||$25 – $30||$60 – $80||$85 – $100||$1500+|
|Proof 1889 Indian Head Penny||–||–||$200 – 300||$400 – $500||$2000+|
Indian Head Penny Error Coins
Every seasoned coin collector knows those coin variants with a unique error during production (like a missing word or letter or an unusual color) can often create intense demand and fetch considerable prices on the open market. The 1889 Indian Head Penny is no different.
Like every U.S. coin, the 1889 Indian Head Penny has a selection of error types that retail for significantly higher than regular prices.
Some notable 1889 Indian Head Penny error coins include the 1889 1C Misaligned Die Clash, which sold for $423 in 2021.
Hence, while attempting to value your coin, you should watch out for errors like unusual coloration, missing or doubled letters, or other unique discrepancies.
You should consult an expert if you suspect your Indian head dollar may be a valuable error coin.
Which year produced the most valuable batch of Indian Head pennies?
In 1877, the United States Mint produced only 852,500 pennies, making it one of only two years during which the mint struck less than a million pennies. Consequently, these pennies are some of the most sought after by collectors, and prices typically start at around $900, even for average condition circulated pennies.
Should I clean my Indian Head penny?
One thing every seasoned coin collector knows is that you should never try to clean the pennies in your collection yourself, especially when they are in an uncirculated condition. Doing this might severely impact the grade of your coin, especially with coins like the Indian head penny that features a mostly copper composition (a highly corrosive and easily degradable metal.)
Visit a coin cleaning professional instead if you ever need to clean your coin.