We already know that the 1871 Indian Head cent may be one of the best Indian Head cents in MS-65, but it may be even better than we already suspect.
The situation back in 1871 was a complicated one, but it?s worth understanding since it almost certainly played a role in making the 1871 as tough as it is in Mint State.
The nation was still getting over the Civil War since the destruction in the South would take a long time to get over. The economy was relatively weak, and in most of the nation there were still no silver or gold coins in circulation.
In such times there wasn?t much coin collecting. The few collectors would have been interested mostly in the lower, circulating denominations such as the cent.
The cent mintages had basically been low since 1866. Things reached a new low in 1871 with a mintage of 3,929,500. The 1877 would be even lower.
Collectors of the time would not have given much thought to the mintage of the 1871 since most would have simply acquired a proof. The proof total is estimated at 960 or more, which was ample to meet the needs of the collectors. As a result the bulk of the 1871 mintage went into circulation and stayed in circulation. Certainly some examples were saved, but perhaps not as many as most might think. Today the 1871 is $77.50 in G-4 and it could easily go higher.
The situation in Mint State is even more complex. The 1871 currently lists at $575 in MS-60 and that is actually fairly low for dates of the early 1870s. In MS-65, however, the 1871 is at $3,000. This price puts it lower than the 1872 at $4,100 and the key 1877 at $13,000. Otherwise the 1871 is the most expensive MS-65 Indian cent of the period.
We know where it stands in terms of price but how tough is the 1871 really in MS-65? The grading services are a natural place to look. The Professional Coin Grading Service reports seeing the 1871 in MS-65 or better a total of 50 times, while the 1872 had a total of 69 in the same grade and the 1877 had 64.
The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has seen the 1871 111 times in MS-65 or better. The 1872 is at 83 appearances in the same grades, and the 1877 is at 89 appearances.
The numbers give a rather mixed picture. Of course it is possible that some coins have been graded more than once while others may have never been graded. We really can?t come to any solid conclusions about how the 1871 compares to the other two. However, the 1871 is certainly not out of place being compared to the other two. Even if it is slightly more available, it is certainly similar in availability. That fact alone puts it among the elite of the Indian Head cents and means the 1871 is special and probably a very good deal at its prices today.