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5 cent Nickle
U.S. Liberty Head Five Cent 1883 - 1913
In 1881 Loudon Snowden, Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint, believing that the nation’s three
minor coins (the cent, three-cent piece and five-cent piece) should be uniform in design and
metallic composition directed Chief Engraver Charles E. Barber to prepare suitable sketches for
these denominations. All three were to feature a classical head of Liberty. Later that year
trial strikes were made of the three coins.
All three were simple in design, Liberty on the obverse and a Roman numeral (I, III or V)
signifying one, three and five cents, respectively inside a wreath. They were struck in
copper-nickel, the same alloy used in the three-cent piece and the Shield nickel. They
quickly discovered that Congress was opposed to a change in composition for the bronze
cent. Farther discovery determined that the Treasury would not permit a design change
for the three-cent piece. This left only the five-cent piece, and Snowden and Barber began overhauling it.
Designer: Charles E. Barber
Diameter: 21.2 millimeters
Metal content: Copper: 75% Nickel: 25%
Weight: 5 grams
Mint Mark Location: Reverse below the button to the left of CENTS.
1883 Five Cents Coin
Type 1 (1883 only) Without "CENTS"
The first “V” nickels had barely been released when a fundamental flaw in the design was
discovered: The word “CENTS” had been omitted from the design. The oversight soon created a
crisis: The coins were being plating with gold and passed off as five-dollar gold pieces.
As brand new coins, which were virtually the same size as half eagles, they were unfamiliar
to the public, and they lacked a statement of value outside of the letter V (which, of course,
could have been either five cents or five dollars).
1883 Five Cents Coin
Type 2 With "CENTS"
Barber quickly corrected the flaw, this time he placed CENTS in large, bold letters below
the V. Unfortunatly, the Mint had already struck nearly 5-1/2 million of the “No CENTS”
nickels, and many had already been gold-plated and passed. Called “racketeer nickels”, they
are still found today in hoards and collections of old coins. They have little value as
collector’s items, but many people find them appealing as a historical curiosities.
The 1885, 1886 and 1912 S are considered low mintage, but there are no great rarities.
The 1912 S, at 238,000, is the only coin with a mintage less than a million. The 1911
is the highest mintage with just over 39.5 million.
In 1913 the Indian Head/Buffalo type nickel went into production replacing the Liberty
nickel. But that is not the end of the story! Some years later the collecting world was
stunned to discover that five 1913 examples had surfaced. They were apparently secretly
made by someone at the Philadelphia Mint. Despite their origins, they came to be accepted
as highly prized collectibles. Today, they rank among the most coveted and valuable of all U.S. coins.
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U.S. Liberty Head Nickels