The 1908-S Indian Head cent does not get a lot of recognition though it probably should. It’s a historic coin and a very interesting one at that. Moreover, while assumed to be available, the 1908-S has moved to some higher prices which might well suggest that it’s also tougher to find in some grades than many might expect.
By 1908 the Indian Head cent had been around for almost 50 years, having made it’s debut back in 1859. Simply put, a couple generations of Americans had basically grown up with the Indian Head cent and it had many collectors. What it did not have were coins produced at any facility other than Philadelphia.
This odd situation was a result of an old law which was put on the books back at the time when the Western mining interests were at the peak of their power in Congress. The law simply did not allow any coins that did not contain silver or gold to be produced at any facility other than Philadelphia. The mining interests saw the mints basically as their best consumer.
Finally, the last of the silver dollar legislation expired and the silver interests had lost some of their clout in Congress. The idea of shipping cents and nickels 3,000 miles to make change probably struck officials as a waste of time and money. After years, the prohibition on making coins with no gold or silver in mints other than Philadelphia was removed which opened the door to potential cents and nickels from San Francisco and the new facility which was opening in Denver.
It was natural that San Francisco would be first, since the facility was up and running while Denver was just opening. Even so, it took time from the repeal of the prohibition to the first production of cents in 1908.
Certainly we would have expected more saving for the historical reasons but also because the 1908-S had a mintage of just 1,115,000. That wasn’t the lowest mintage Indian Head cent, but the total was not at all high. Only the 1877 had a lower mintage, although the 1909-S, produced the following year, would also be lower.
It certainly helped that the year was 1908. For years, collectors would pull examples of the 1908-S from circulation in various grades. That makes it affordable and available in greater numbers in most grades than many other Indian Head cents. The demand, however, remains high and the 1908-S has moved from a 1998 G-4 price of $41 to $77 today.
The 1908-S seems to have been produced with some care. Its price in MS-60 has risen somewhat since 1998, but the MS-65 price has risen dramatically, going from $625 in 1998 to $2,650 today.
Whatever the grade, the 1908-S remains a very historic coin. Its production opened the door for San Francisco cents. The coins that would follow would include some of the best known and most desired cents in history.