user_95183's Blog

25 Apr 2022

Color Designations Continued: Small Cents

Coins-United States | user_95183

Hello, everyone! Today I will be talking about color designations on United States small cents. I will go over how to determine the color of a coin, how rare red and red-brown coins are on specific series, and how much value original red color can add to certain coin series. There is a lot to go over, so let’s dive in!

What is a Color Designation?

A color designation is a piece of grading where the amount of original red color is specified. In the US, this designation is used on Half Cents, Large Cents, and Small Cents. The first designation is brown (BN). This designation is used for coins that show less than 5% of their original red color. All circulated coins are assumed to be brown, but there are certainly times when a circulated coin can still have hints of red. The next color designation for copper coins is red-brown, or RB. This designation is used for coins that show between 5% and 95% of their original red color and have uncirculated detail. The final, and most desirable designation, is full red (RD). This designation is used for coins that still have over 95% of their original red color. On many old copper coin series, this can be a very hard designation to obtain and it can add a lot of value.

Color Designation Rarity and Value for Specific US Copper Coin Series

Now I will go in-depth and talk about the overall rarity red color is for different US coin series as well as how much value original red color adds to coins in these series.

Flying Eagle Cents

Flying Eagle Cents were the first small cents ever minted by the U.S. mint. Therefore, the age of these coins makes the original red color very rare in this series. However, for this composition of cent only, color is not a factor when grading. This is because of the copper-nickel composition. This composition makes the coins appear to be whiteish in color and makes the coins oxidize differently. When this coin series oxidizes, many colors can be created on the coin, making it very difficult to determine whether the coin is red, red-brown, or brown. Therefore, PCGS and NGC do not bother to put color designations on Flying Eagle Cents.

Indian Head Cents

Indian Head Cents are a very popular and diverse series of small cents. They were made over a fifty year period and the rarity of red color can vary depending on how old the coin is. Coins minted from 1859 - 1864 with a copper-nickel composition follow the same rules as Flying Eagle Cents when it comes to color designations. The composition of copper-nickel makes the color vary too much and the main grading companies don’t want to assign a specific color to a coin. However, coins that appear to have more red color than others may sell for more on the market. Indian Head Cents that were minted from 1864-1879 with a bronze composition are somewhat rare with original red color, however there are still quite a few that have survived with this color designation. For common date coins in this time period, a coin with parts of its red color left (RB) can be worth a couple hundred dollars more than a coin in a full brown state. An Indian Head Cent from 1864-1879 with all of its red color remaining can nearly double the value of a coin in a full brown state. Finally, Indian Head Cents minted from 1880-1909 are fairly common with original color. A red-brown coin is only worth a small amount more than a brown coin, however, a full red coin can still be worth over double the value of a brown coin.

Wheat Cents

Wheat cents are a much more modern coin series and are very common with red color, especially later issues of the series. Coins from the 1910’s and 1920’s are common with red color, but some dates with mint marks can be more allusive with original red color. Coins from Philadelphia minted within this time period are not worth much more in a red-brown state than in a brown state, but if a coin has full red color, the price will jump up a bit. The value of a coin with a mint mark in this time period can nearly double the price of a brown coin if the specimen shows a red-brown color. However, the price does not increase significantly when comparing a red-brown and red coin. As for wheat cents minted in the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s, red color is extremely common. For a common date coin in this time period, a wheat cent is not worth much at all in any color state.

Clearly, color designations are a big factor when it comes to grading and pricing coins. Thanks so much for reading this blog and have a nice day!


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Long Beard

Level 5

Most collectors lean heavily towards the full red, myself I prefer the red-brown. Nothing comes close to a maroon with deep red-brown accenting the devices. Especially when looking at the Canadian large cent reverse leaves.


Level 6

Enjoyed your blog! Nothing like a beautiful "Red" Cent! ; )


Level 6

Great written blog. Color is always a contention with the TPG. They are very tough in my opinion. Thanks.

It's Mokie

Level 6

I just recently completed a set of Indian Head Cents from 1900-1909 including the two S mint issues. Mine are all brown but they are gorgeous to me. Thanks for your research and well written blog.

AC coin$

Level 6

Interesting lesson and a great blog to read from a newer collector. Good to know more about coin tones and the reason such changes come to be. Good job.


Level 7

Mr. Bama is right. I have coins going back to 1797 out of a set of 19 five are red brown and two red. The Indian head two red. Those that got the short end red brown. But these were taken care of. Conder Tokens. There absolutely beautiful. I was very lucky to collect the 19 token set over five years. They still have there color. 1909 VDB MS 65 red! I bought that one years ago. Great blog. Letting people know there out there. The set is known as the only complete set. NGC put my name on the label. I was very grateful. So look. I enjoyed your blog very much. Thank you for your work and sharing it with us!

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Thanks for a blog that will be very helpful to newer collectors!

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