The reported mintage of 1877 Indian Head Cents for circulation is 852,500 pieces, with an estimated 900 proofs coins struck for collectors. This was a sharp drop from the previous year, when the Mint produced almost 8 million cents, and even greater decline from mintages of the 1860’s and earlier 1870’s.
Despite the somewhat high mintage for a key date coin, the number of pieces that have survived to this day is much, much lower than the mintage suggests. In all grades, perhaps no more than 5,000 1877 Indian Head Cents are still known to exist, and perhaps only 10% of these are still in uncirculated condition. Proofs are more relatively available, with approximately two-thirds of the original mintage remaining, but these are highly valued as well, despite having a similar mintage to other proof coins of the series.
There are several possible explanations for the scarcity of the 1877 Indian Head Cent. The first is that all coins circulated extensively and were later melted. This, however, appears unlikely, as this issue has been known to collectors as rare since the late 19th century. Another possibility is that the mintage was incorrectly recorded, which is known to have occurred at the Philadelphia Mint from time to time. But perhaps the most likely reason is that the mintage did occur, but that not all were released into circulation (perhaps as few as 200,000) and that the others were later melted at the Mint and used for the production of other dates. It is also a mystery why only two die pairs are known to exist, when die life in this period was no more than a couple of hundreds of thousands of coins, and no coins are known to exist from excessively worn dies.