The 1877 Indian Head Cent is considered to be the classic key date of the series, which was introduced in 1859 and struck in considerable numbers until the early 20th century. The Indian Head cent design by James Barton Longacre would become one of the most enduring coin designs of its era. Miss Liberty is depicted wearing a Native American headdress on the obverse . Longacre’s design featured Miss Liberty wearing a Native American head dress on the obverse, and a wreath on the reverse, initially of laurel leaves and subsequently with oak leaves and a shield at the top.
Circulation was relatively widespread for the first few years following the introduction of the series, but the American Civil War changed this. Similar to other denominations struck in gold and silver, all copper nickel and bronze Indian Head Cents were hoarded despite the continuing production at the mint in Philadelphia. After the Civil War concluded, the cents returned to commerce. However, because of the legal tender limit of four cents, authorized in the mid 1860’s, there was a legal reason to refuse cents in large quantities. The Mint Act of 1871 authorized the Mint to redeem the cents, both copper-nickel and bronze, melt them, and reissue them. This occurred in relative large quantities in the early 1870s.
In 1874, it was decided at the Mint that most of the redeemed bronze cents could easily be reissued, without the necessity to melt the pieces. It was this decision that would eventually lead to the scarcity of the 1877 Indian Head Cent, only a few years later. Almost ten million bronze cents were redeemed that year, and virtually the same amount was reissued into circulation. As a result, a large mintage of new cents was not necessary.