From the Grading Room: Elusive 1865 Indian Cent Pattern

Posted on 7/12/2016

NGC graders knew something was unusual about this proof Indian cent.

While grading a partial date run of proof Indian cents, the 1865 cent jumped out to the NGC graders. Its rims seemed especially sharp and its color was ever-so-slightly atypical of the issue. Its weight was normal, within tolerance for a cent of the era. Acting on a hunch, they requested that NGC technicians perform metallurgic analysis. Moments later, when the results came back, their suspicions were confirmed. It wasn't a typical bronze Indian cent at all. It was 100% pure copper.

Indian cents of the era are bronze, an alloy consisting of 95% copper. The remaining 5% is a mixture of tin and zinc. For several issues of the 1860s and 1870s, pure copper patterns were also struck from proof dies. These were made in very small numbers. Without metallurgic analysis they are essentially indistinguishable from standard proof issues.

Copper Pattern 1865 Indian Cent, Judd-403
Click images to enlarge.

This pure copper 1865 Indian Cent is described in the standard reference for US pattern coins as Judd-403, and given a high R7 rating, which corresponds to 4 to 6 specimens known. Exciting for the graders involved, it was the first example of the Judd-403 that NGC has certified.

Although similar discoveries have been made in the past, the inverse occurs more frequently. A coin is submitted to NGC as a pure copper pattern and is discovered to be a standard-issue bronze proof coin. And no collector is immune. Two coins in Eric P. Newman's extraordinary pattern coin collection were discovered to be standard proof issues: an 1864 Large Motto 2C, thought to be Judd-370, and an 1865 2C, thought to be Judd-408. NGC is indeed fortunate to have advanced forensic equipment assisting its certification process.

Why, if so similar to standard issues, were these copper coins struck? Some researchers surmise that they were struck for inclusion in complete copper proof sets that included off-metal variants of each denomination. Few of these sets remain intact and individual coins without provenance can easily be attributed wrongly.

Encapsulated Pattern 1865 Indian Cent, Judd-403, NGC PF62RB
Click images to enlarge.

To the submitter of this Judd-403, the discovery was also unexpected. He is a Collectors Society member. This coin was included in his very first submission to NGC! He shared with NGC that he had acquired it from a seller on eBay. It was raw and described as a standard proof issue.

The rare copper pattern has now been certified Proof 62 Red and Brown by NGC.

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