Liberty Nickel (1883-1913)
Liberty Nickel – In the early 1880s, a replacement was already being sought for the Shield Nickel which had been in production since 1866. The Shield Design proved difficult to strike and the US Mint was looking for solutions.
Joseph Wharton, an industrialist and nickel mine owner, was lobbying for the bronze cent to be made in copper-nickel. Mint Superintendent Archibald Loudon Snowden then asked similar designs to be created for the cent, three-cent, and five-cent coins. Mint Engraver Charles Barber was the one tasked to produce the designs.
Only the five-cent piece received approval in 1882, with production starting in early 1883.
History of the Liberty Nickel
The Shield Nickel was only in production for a short period, but it was painfully clear the coin design needed to be replaced. Although it was well accepted, it featured an uninspiring design. Plus, there was no law mandating the lifespan of US currency designs at that time.
So new designs were commissioned in the early 1880s, with approval sealed in 1882. The new Liberty Nickel design was unveiled on January 30, 1883 at a special ceremony and first strikes were handed out as souvenirs.
Barber’s design for the Liberty Nickel omitted the word “CENTS” in the reverse. There was just the Roman numeral V, representing the coin’s value, surrounded by a wreath along with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM – all these encircled by the words UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
The omission of the word CENTS created a problem since confidence con artists plated the coins with gold then passed them off as five-dollar pieces. Barber quickly changed the design, putting the word CENTS below the the value. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM was also moved above the coin’s value.
With close to five-and-a-half million No Cents Liberty Nickels produced before the error was rectified, it’s not surprising to come upon gold-plated versions. Although these versions don’t hold much value for collectors, they are a wonderful addition to historical curiosities.
The Mint produced over 16 million Liberty Nickels with CENTS on the reverse by the end of 1883. No more changes were made to the coin, and most of it was produced at the Philadelphia Mint with the exception of 1912 when the Denver and San Francisco mints struck the coin.
Collecting the Liberty Nickel
The Liberty Nickel coins were mostly struck at the Philadelphia Mint. However, during its last year in production, the mints at Denver and San Francisco also produced the pieces. The mintmarks can be found on the reverse, next to the word CENTS.
The 1885, 1886, and 1912 San Francisco Liberty Nickels had low mintages, but the series doesn’t have great rarities. Production of the coin also never exceeded 40 million pieces.
The Liberty Nickel series is collected in different ways. Some collectors prefer to collect by date and mint, while others collect by type. There are Liberty Nickel proofs in the thousands for each year the coin was struck.
Although there wasn’t any Liberty Nickel struck in 1913, five are known to exist.