Numismatic History: Native Americans Honored in U.S. Coins

The historical tribes that make up Native American culture have often been given a place of honor on many of the US Mint’s most popular and enduring coin designs. From the Indian Cents and $3 Gold Pieces of the 1850s to the modern Gold Buffalo Bullion series that began in 2008, Native Americans have been prominently featured in the pantheon of US coinage on many occasions over the past 150 years.

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1866 Gold Three Dollar, MS63 | Rarely Seen This Well-Preserved

The story of the Indian Cent in particular makes an excellent study for the later use of this lasting motif in American coinage, honoring the United States’ Native American heritage. James B. Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the US Mint from the 1840s until his passing in 1869, designed the Indian Cent and its many preliminary possible designs, or “patterns.” As with other American coins designed during this time period, there was great symbolic meaning to each aspect of the Indian Cent’s design.

Indian Head Penny- 1903 Indian Cent | Finest-Certified PR68 Red | Heritage AuctionsIndian Head Penny- 1903 Indian Cent | Finest-Certified PR68 Red | Heritage Auctions

1903 Indian Cent | Finest-Certified PR68 Red

For example, Longacre discussed his choice to use the Native American motif rather than the popular Liberty Cap design when he wrote regarding his use of a feathered headdress on the Indian Cent, “From the copper shores of Lake Superior, to the silver mountains of Potosi from the Ojibwa to the Aramanian, 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.” Clearly, great care and patriotic concern went into producing this design, which is still popular with many collectors today.

A similar theme was later echoed in James Earle Fraser’s Buffalo Nickel design, showing a Native American chief on the obverse and a buffalo on the reverse, as well as the $5 and $10 Indian gold coins of 1907 to 1932, designed by the famous Augustus Saint Gaudens. The Buffalo Nickel proved to be so popular among collectors, in fact, that this design was retooled and resurrected for a recent series of gold bullion coins, the American Buffalo gold bullion series, as well as a 2001 one-ounce silver buffalo coin.

Buffalo Nickel | 1913 5C Type One MS67+ PCGS. CAC

Yet more instances of Native Americans on US coinage can be found when one looks at commemorative pieces. The Arkansas Centennial half dollars of 1935 to 1939, the Daniel Boone half dollar of 1934 to 1938, the Long Island half dollar of 1936, the Missouri half dollar of 1921, the 1936 Providence half dollar, and the Oregon Trail half dollars of 1926 to 1939 all include Indian imagery. Many of these coins reflect Native Americans’ unique role in shaping U.S. history. Later on, two modern commemoratives reflected this theme as well, with the Jamestown silver dollar and gold half eagles of 2007 showing Native Americans as one of the groups that helped to build early America.

Buffalo Nickel | 1913 5C Type One MS67+ PCGS. CAC

 

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 2000-P Sacagawea Dollar, SP68 | Glenna Goodacre Presentation

 

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 2015-W $1 Mohawk Ironworkers, Enhanced Finish, Early Release, SP69 NGC.

All in all, many different coins, both circulating and commemorative, have highlighted the role of Native Americans in American culture over the years. The focus on these original inhabitants of what is today the United States of America has now reached a level of cultural sensitivity that many would likely welcome, as the US Mint states that today’s Sacagawea Dollars “honor and recognize of the important contributions made by Indian tribes and individual Native Americans.” These coins feature rotating new reverse designs each year that are chosen in conjunction with the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, the Congressional Native American Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Congress of American Indians. To see many interesting examples of Native Americans and how they have shaped US numismatics, visit www.ha.com/coins to browse many fascinating pieces.

Posted by Sarah Miller

Director of Numismatics, New York

  1. I am a coin collector, but in the process of selling some of my coins:
    1. 1902. Penny
    2. 1911 nickel
    3. 1917 half dollar
    4. And a Indian buffalo nickel

    I enjoy the website because I am learning more about coins and vintage items.

    Reply

    1. Hello Moreland,

      Can you email us detailed color images of both sides of your coins to bid@ha.com? We would be happy to review the images and see if we can give you an idea as to the coins value.

      Thank you for contacting Heritage Auctions.

      Reply

    2. Hi I have one cent united states year 1901 l like you help

      Reply

      1. CSSocialMedia May 8, 2017 at 9:15 am

        Hello Mr. Flores,

        Thank you for your message. Please send us images via email to bid@ha.com and include your contact information. We will have a Specialist in our Coin department contact you.

        Reply

    3. I have 1903 1C ,can sold it.

      Reply

      1. Hello Sven,

        We are always seeking consignments. Visit https://www.ha.com/c/acquisitions.zx?target=sell&type=social-cs-Facebook-sellnow-092517 for more information. Or you can call us at 1-800-872-6467.

        Thank you,

        Heritage

        Reply

  2. I HAVE A 1907 PENNY MINT UNCIR CANT SEEM TO FIND IT DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT ITS VALUE

    Reply

    1. Hello Mr. Crist,

      Please submit an image to us at bid@ha.com with your contact information and any additional information you have relating to this coin and we will be happy to contact you about its value. Thank you.

      Reply

  3. Great to find this blog, we have tons of coins run through our auction, now ill know what to look for.

    Reply

    1. CSSocialMedia March 3, 2017 at 9:56 am

      Thank you so much for your feedback. We appreciate your thoughts and are glad it has been helpful to you.

      Reply

  4. I have 1887-1912 nickels,1898 pennys,a lot of coins tryin to see if these coins worth somethin

    Reply

    1. Hello Mr. Wong,
      For a free auction evaluation, please visit
      https://www.ha.com/c/acquisitions.zx?target=auctionevaluation&slug=www&ic=WorthFreeAuctionEvaluation-010113
      A specialist will contact you once you submit the evaluation.

      Reply

    2. Elder Eric Hunt sr June 2, 2018 at 2:56 pm

      I have 4 1944 penny’s and 1 1943 steel penny for seal .

      Reply

      1. CSSocialMedia June 5, 2018 at 8:32 am

        Hello Mr. Hunt,

        If you are interested in placing them in auction, please email us images to Coins@HA.com. We will have a Specialist take a look and contact you to discuss.

        Reply

  5. Hello to all,
    I have a 1943-s steel wheat penny that is missing the 4 on the date also the s mint mark is missing..you can tell it was a 4 and mint mark s because it left a impression of both..can anyone tell me if its worth checking out considering its a steel penny? Thanks in advance.

    Reply

    1. Helly Terry. Thank you for your message. If you are interested in placing your coin for auction, please email us at bid@ha.com with your contact information and we will have a coin Specialist contact you.

      Reply

  6. Hello, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to ask a question and comment on your informative site. I am very new to this field, as I found several coins after my husband passed away. I have indian pennies dating as follows: 1866,1891,1899,1902,1905,1907 and 1908. All in great condition (i think) and would like some education on determining their value. I also have a 1909 Lincoln one cent penny. What do these symbols and numbers mean? 1CM S66 RED NGC; S 1C MS64 RED AND BROWN. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you in advance.

    Reply

    1. Hello Mrs. Harris,

      Thank you for writing to us. The 1C means 1 Cent MS 66 Red NGC is grading information. For example: It was graded a MS66 by company NGC. Red is relating to the color of the penny. For more information about your coins and the value of them, please send us images and your contact information via email to bid@ha.com. We will then have a Coin Specialist contact you to discuss.

      Reply

    2. would you like to sell them please call 601 596-0657 thankst

      Reply

  7. My Mother left me some coin collections some of which were stolen by a previous resident. However, I still have some left and I would like to know of an honest auctioneer or buyer. Should I just advertise on craigslist? Please advise 443 759 6499

    Reply

    1. CSSocialMedia May 2, 2017 at 10:34 am

      Hello Dorothy, I have replied to your later message. Thank you.

      Reply

  8. I need some help in where to sell some possible finds in an inherited coin collection. I am not employed and struggling financially because of local angst. I need to get the best value for these coins, remaining. Some were stolen a few years ago.

    Reply

    1. CSSocialMedia May 2, 2017 at 10:34 am

      Hello Dorothy,

      We will be happy to take a look at your collection. Please send us an email with images of your coins along with your contact information to bid@ha.com and we will have a Specialist contact you.

      Reply

  9. Have questions

    Reply

    1. CSSocialMedia June 16, 2017 at 8:46 am

      We will be happy to answer your questions. What questions do you have?

      Reply

  10. How do i transfer my images to the web to get values and condition of us coins and paper notes.

    Reply

    1. Hello James,

      Thank you for your comment. Please send us an email to bid@ha.com and we can get you values and condition of your US Coins and Paper Notes.

      Reply

  11. Jorge alberto hernandez soto August 25, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    Quisiera saber cuanto valor tiene 1 centavo cabeza de indio de 1889 usa 1 centavo de usa de 1943 steel 1 nikelde 1912v, 1 moneda de 20 francos belgie de 1980,1 de republica de francais de 1/2 franco de 1983,republica de francais 20centimes 1991 liberte agalite fraternite,1 republica d argentina de 10 pesos de 1976,1 juan carlos 1 de españa de 5ptas de 1975,elizabeth || Dg regina de canada de 1 dollar de 1987por ultimo ELIZABETH || DG REG.F.D.1987 TWO PENCE , 1Elizabeth ||DG REGINA GON LAS FECHAS 1867-1962 de 1 centavo . gracias de antemano por su ayuda saludos

    Reply

    1. Hola si estás interesado en aprender más acerca de tu artículo, envía una evaluación de subasta gratis en: https://www.ha.com/common/acquisitions.php?target=auctionevaluation&type=kk-fb-cs-freeeval-070714 o tu Puede contactarnos al 1-866-835-3243.

      Reply

  12. I dropped off my jug of change to my credit union to be counted and deposited into my account. I received in the mail today an 1863 Indian head penny that they found amongst my change. I thought it was very nice that they returned it to me with a note attached that it may be worth value. How can I find out its value?

    Reply

    1. Hello Lynn Covert,

      If you are interested in learning more about your item please submit a free auction evaluation at: https://www.ha.com/common/acquisitions.php?target=auctionevaluation&type=kk-fb-cs-freeeval-070714 or you can email images to coins@ha.com. We will then have a Specialist contact you to discuss the coin.

      Reply

  13. Frank Reilly Jr February 5, 2018 at 4:03 pm

    Would a 1973 High D Mintmark(right under 9&7)And a 1973 LOW D Mintmark be concidered a Variety?

    Reply

    1. The mintmarks were punched by hand into dies during the 1970s and “move around” quite a bit without any premium. The mintmark has to be repunched or overlap a date digit to command a premium.

      Reply

  14. Dottie I have 1900 Indian Head penny, a 1909 VBD penny no s and a196 something Die cap Lincoln penny this coin donot have in God we trust on it. Thank for what you can tell me about these coins.

    Reply

    1. Please email front and back images of the coin to BobMarino@ha.com. We will take a look at it and contact you with more information.

      Reply

  15. Manuel J Infante.aa. May 11, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Tengo 110 monedas de 25 centavo del Bicentenario de zuSA i un centavo. De 1904 y otras monedas de distintos países.

    Reply

    1. CSSocialMedia May 14, 2018 at 10:47 pm

      Hola Manuel,

      Envíe por correo electrónico las imágenes frontal y posterior de la moneda a SarahM@HA.com. Lo analizaremos y lo contactaremos para obtener más información.

      Gracias,

      Heritage Auctions

      Reply

  16. I have a 1891 wheat penny and 2 1898 penny’s what are they worth

    Reply

    1. CSSocialMedia June 25, 2018 at 9:25 am

      Hello,
      We would like to get more information about your coins. If you are interested in learning more about your coins, interested in selling, or would like to receive a free auction evaluation, please:
      – Submit a free auction evaluation: https://www.ha.com/common/acquisitions.php?target=auctionevaluation&type=social-cs-Facebookfreeeval-
      092517
      – Or email our expert Bob Marino directly: bobmarino@ha.com

      Reply

  17. Comment to Sara Miller
    Director of Numismatics, New York

    Dear Sara,

    I find it difficult to express my true appreciation for your editorial, but I am moved to respond to your editorial.

    As a Numismatic Collector an American Military Veteran, a person of color, mixed with the blood of freed Native American Tribes, the “Curly Haired, Shamrock Latent Vigor” of the Irish and the son of the third child of Princess Marie De Bonaparte-Radziwitt.

    There are many fallen American Veterans of Native American Heritage (as there are multitudes of different nationalities) that I always remember and I am moved to speak on their behalf.

    Sara, I salute you for the uncanny, vibrant, scholarly, honored wisdom (which is so limited in appreciated by many Americans) in your expressive descriptions of the Native Americans in reference to coinage renderings. Your written expressions have warmed up the honor and respect in my heart for one of the most respected institutions Heritage Auction House and for in you.

    You Humble Me, In My Appreciative Expressions

    JD

    Reply

    1. Thank you so much for your kind feedback and sharing your heritage with us. We are appreciative of this.

      Reply

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