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From the October 2001 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:


Do You Collect Indian Cents?

By Mike Nourse  


        Do you collect Indian Head cents? If you do, there are two new books by author / dealer Richard “Rick” Snow that belong on your bookshelf. The first is entitled The Flying Eagle & Indian Cent Attribution Guide, 2nd Edition, Volume 1, 1856-1858 while the second book has the same lengthy title except that it is notated as Volume 6, 1900-1909. The intervening four volumes, numbers two through five, will be released at approximately four to six month intervals as they are produced.

            These books are available only in spiral bound format at this time, and both are 8 ½ by 11 inches in size with a clear plastic cover over a brightly colored front page. Neither book is expensive, with volume 1 retailing for $30 and volume six at $25, roughly the price of a common date Indian cent in MS-60. The obvious question at this point is why were volumes one and six published first instead of going in a more logical order? It was the author’s opinion that these two date ranges had seen the largest number of new developments since the last publication of a detailed variety guide.

            You probably already have on your bookshelf the 1992 book by Rick Snow Flying Eagle & Indian Cents and the 1995 book Flying Eagle and Indian Cent Varieties by Larry Steve and Kevin Flynn which also gives details on the many die varieties in the Flying Eagle and Indian cent series. Other books have been written about these popular small cent series, but they were not heavy-duty variety identification guides. If you enjoy looking at your coins through a loupe of a stereo microscope, this six part series will be essential.

            What is inside these books? Let’s look at volume one. After an introduction, there are seven pages of diagrams, photographs, and instructions to assist the collector in determining which variety (identified using a numbering system known as Snow numbers) a particular coin is. A beginner may think that it would be a very simple task to figure out which variety a coin is just by looking at the coin and the pictures in the book. Not so! Often times two or more varieties will look very similar to each other so other clues must be used to differentiate between similar varieties. Within these seven pages you will learn some of the specific places on the coin where minute positional variations can help in your quest to identify which Snow variety your cent is.

            Next come a few pages describing the planning and design process which occurred in the mid 1850’s which led up to the eventual production of the Flying Eagle cent. Included are pictures of early design concepts and plaster models created by James B. Longacre during the design phase. Here is a chance to see what our Flying Eagle cent might have looked like. Hint: the eagle might have been heavily encumbered with arrows in one claw, some foliage in the other claw, a banner in his beak, and a shield being carried through means I can not even ascertain!

            We are all familiar with the famous (and expensive!) 1856 Flying Eagle cent, which was produced to the tune of only about 2000 or so pieces. This coin is so highly regarded that prominent 20th century coin dealer and auctioneer Abe Kosoff always had an 1856 Flying Eagle cent as lot #1 in his many public auctions. Five pages of volume one are devoted to a discussion of the likely production dates of these coins (not all in 1856!) and the sequence in which the ten different known varieties were made. At least one full page is dedicated to each of these ten varieties with an additional page for the one 1856 pattern coin which uses the regular 1856 obverse mated with a reverse composed of a wreath similar to that seen on the regular issue coins except for an ornamental shield at top.

            A couple of pages are expended telling the history behind the authorizing legislation and preparation for producing many millions of small cents in 1857. The really interesting part about 1857 comes in the middle of the listing of the 18 varieties for the year. New collectors may not know this, but there are three instances in which dies meant to strike Flying Eagle cents were clashed with dies of another denomination! It is hard to imagine that this could have happened by mistake, especially three times in the same year, but the results are truly spectacular and vividly illustrated in the Snow book. The clashed dies involved were an obverse Flying Eagle die clashed with a Liberty $20 gold obverse, a Flying Eagle reverse die clashed with a Seated Liberty quarter reverse die, and a Flying Eagle obverse die clashed with a Seated Liberty half dollar obverse. For reference, these varieties are listed as Snow-7, Snow-8, and Snow-9 respectively. By the way, even long time dealer Q. David Bowers considers these multi-denominational clashed cents to be some of the most interesting coins in US numismatics.

            A few changes were made to the design before production began in 1858, along with the big mid year change that we are all familiar with: the switch from the large letter obverse to the small letter obverse. Three pages are dedicated to explaining these changes before we head into the listing of varieties. Within the large letters section we will find two versions of the 1858/7 variety. The Snow-1 variety is the stronger (read = more valuable) version of this overdate while the Snow-7 is less obvious, although neither of them appear particularly impressive with only the upper right corner of the seven visible resting in the field above the eight. Incidentally the Snow-1 variety is easiest to identify by noting that the upper wing tip is vague and discontinuous and pretty much disappears in later die states.

            We are not even nearly done with the year 1858 yet even though we have examined both the large and small letter variations of the Flying Eagle cent. It is time to walk through the door into the world of patterns, which command the remaining 45 pages of the book. It all starts with a six page overview of the many cent patterns produced this year. We get to see that there were three vividly different obverses used for the patterns, an Indian head very similar to that adopted for the Indian Head cent, the normal Flying Eagle obverse, and an obverse die with a smaller eagle displaying a painfully bent neck. Mated with these three obverses are four reverses: an agricultural wreath similar to that found on the Flying Eagle cent; a laurel wreath like that seen on the reverse of 1859 Indian Head cents; an oak wreath similar to the one on later Indian Head cent reverses from 1860 on, minus the shield at top; and another oak wreath combined this time with a large fancy shield at top. These three obverses and four reverses are combined, along with positional variations, to create a whopping 35 different pattern coins. Each of the patterns gets at least one full page description with a picture. A chart at the end of this section cross references all of the pattern coins with other standard references on the subject including books by Walter Breen, Dr. J. Hewitt Judd, and Andrew Pollock.

            In contrast to the first volume, volume six contains not nearly so much historical information and research. We start out again with the very valuable variety identification assistance guide, which is basically identical to the one found in volume one. After that we dive straight into the variety listings beginning with the year 1900 and going through the end of the Indian Head series including the 1908-S and 1909-S issues. Each date has a very brief overview of what to look for in the coins of that year, a listing of the Proof varieties, and then a listing of the business strike varieties.

            There is a distressing lack of major varieties among these early 20th century cents, but that is made up for by a large number of minor varieties, most of which are repunched dates and misplaced dates. Many of these years have fifteen or more known varieties, some of which look deceptively similar, so it is essential that you learn how to use the identification assistant at the beginning of the book to avoid confusion. Even though the varieties are not spectacular, they generally command some premium and are therefore worth looking for.

            These new volumes are certainly worth their small cost if you enjoy the search for varieties. Volume one is worth getting just for the abundance of background material it contains. The two big changes between the new volumes and the 1992 work by Rick Snow are the addition of quite a large number of newly discovered varieties and the enlargement of the photographs of the relevant part of the coin, usually the date area. In the earlier book the pictures measured about 1 ¼ inches by 2 ½ inches, and they have now been enlarged to roughly 2 ½ by 3 inches. I think there still is room to make the pictures even a bit larger, but at least we are heading in the right direction.

            The presently available volumes number one and six are available locally from dealers who carry supplies or can be ordered through the mail. They are only available in spiral binding but I am hopeful for a hardbound edition once all six volumes are available.


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