This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The 1909-S Indian Head cent is one of those interesting coins that may be better than its price suggests, or may be somewhat inflated thanks to a low mintage and high rate of saving. It could be either, which is unusual for a U.S. coin.
The 1909-S was a coin in a transition year, when the new Lincoln cent was making its debut. But first there was the production of 309,000 of the old Indian Head cents at San Francisco. They were followed by 484,000 1909-S Lincoln cents with the small “VDB” on the reverse and then another 1,825,000 Lincoln cents without the “VDB,” making three different San Francisco cents in 1909. None had a mintage of even 2 million pieces and two were less than 500,000. There have been no other small cents issued for circulation with a mintage of less than even 800,000.
There is no doubt that there was excitement in 1909 over the new Lincoln cent. There was also interest in the matter of the “VDB” and especially the new 1909-S VDB, which became a quick sensation.
Just who saved what and why back in 1909 is not entirely clear today, but there is no doubt that the 1909-S Indian Head cent had a significantly lower mintage than the 1909-S VDB. The 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent is more expensive, which is logical as the demand is much higher. The 1909-S Indian Head cent is currently $590 in G-4, up from $235 in the late 1990s.
Like the 1909-S VDB, the 1909-S Indian cent has always been a classic collector coin. Until the early 1960s, pulling cents of any type from circulation was the way most young collectors started their coin collecting. The odds were against them finding either cent, but the dreams were very real.
Certainly the 1909-S Indian Head cent was spotted quickly by some. The mintage of 309,000 would have seemed low even back in 1909. However, saving may not have been as strong as we think because collectors of the time did not think in terms of saving extras to sell at a later time. Many dealers did not even stock current issues.
In Mint State, the 1909-S Indian Head cent lists today for $1,000 in MS-60 and $2,250 in MS-65. These prices are still below any number of other Indian Head cents.
It is not just a modest price that suggests there was some saving of the 1909-S as the grading service totals are also higher than would be expected. Professional Coin Grading Service has seen roughly 175 examples of the 1909-S in MS-65, while Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports more than 140 in MS-65 or better. Naturally the grading service totals are not adequate to supply the demand, but they are high totals considering the low mintage.