In 1883, the Liberty Nickel began circulating following the end of the Shield Nickel series. The coin is composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel and often called the V Nickel or Liberty Head Nickel. Designed by chief engraver Charles Barber, the majority of Americans preferred the Liberty Nickel design to the previous five-cent offering from the United States Mint.
On the obverse of the Liberty Nickel is a left-facing Liberty with pinned back hair. She is wearing a coronet on her head inscribed LIBERTY and surrounded by thirteen stars, with the date below. The reverse displays the Roman numeral V encircled by a large wreath. Two inscriptions accompany the image and include UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM.
The word CENT was added on the reverse in 1884, meaning no coins dated 1883 show the coins value. In order to fit the CENT value on the coin, the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM was moved from the bottom section of the coin to just above the top part of the wreath. After these changes were made, the design of the Liberty Nickel remained the same until the end of the series in 1913.
When the Liberty Nickel was initially introduced in 1883, there wasn’t any obvious marking on the coin for the public to determine its value. Even though the Roman numeral V (which is equal to 5) was shown on the reverse, it lacked the word CENTS. Quick to notice the design flaw, fraudsters didn’t waste any time modifying the Liberty Nickel to try and make it appear more like a five dollar gold coin.
As soon as the Mint caught on to what was happening, Liberty Nickel designer, Charles E. Barber was ordered to place CENTS on the reverse of the coin. When the new coin design was released, many people chose to keep hold of the original version of the Liberty Nickel, hoping it would later become a rare and valuable piece.
At the end of 1919, an advert written by Samuel W. Brown appeared in coin publications, such as The Numismatist. The advert said, “Wanted 1913 Liberty Head Nickel. In proof condition if possible. Will pay $500 cash for one. Samuel W. Brown, N. Y.” However, the production of 1913 Liberty Nickels was not authorized and the United States Mint records show no evidence of any being made.
In August 1920, Brown went to the American Numismatic Association (ANA) convention with one of five newly purchased 1913 Liberty Nickels, much to the surprise of everyone else at the gathering. According to Brown, the Mint created a master die for the 1913 coin and produced some proof test pieces. No 1913 Nickels are believed to have been placed in circulation.
Brown eventually sold his 1913 Liberty Nickels, which ended up in the hands of a few owners before reaching the well-known Texan collector, Col. Edward H.R. Green. The five coins remained in Green’s estate until he passed away in 1936 and were sold to Eric P. Newman and B.G. Johnson 6 years later.
Three of the five 1913 Liberty Nickels belong to private owners, with another on display at the ANA’s Money Museum in Colorado Springs and the other in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The most recent sale of a privately owned 1913 Liberty Nickel was in 2013. Offered for sale by four Virginia siblings, the coin expected to reach $2.5 million but was sold at auction for a staggering $3.17 million.
Liberty Nickels were produced at three different mints, with the majority of the dates struck at Philadelphia (no mintmark). Denver (D) and San Francisco (S) only minted the coins in 1912. The 1885 and 1886 issues are considered key dates in the series, as well as the 1912-S, which is the only Liberty Nickel to come from the San Francisco Mint.
We should also point out that the 1883 pieces without the word CENTS are considerably rarer than those with it because many were hoarded and much fewer were made. While there aren’t many varieties, some interesting ones do exist, such as the 1884 doubled date and the 1887 and 1990 doubled-die reverse issues.
If you would like more information about Liberty Nickels or are interested in adding these coins to your holding, Capital Gold Group welcomes you to get in touch. You can either call us or send us a message via email or the online form on our Contact page.