Continuing from part one that we did a couple of weeks back. We’re here once again to talk about the history of the nickel. The nickel, also referred to as the half dime, wouldn’t gain it’s nick name (pun not intended) until the mid 19th century at the end of the Civil War. This war spawned half dimes north and south of the mason-dixon line, and as such, creates a wide overlap of the different coins.
This coin came to be at the end of the Civil War. During the war, people had begun to hoard gold and silver coins due to the government stopping the use of precious metals in coinage. This lead to the well known “shinplaster” coins. These coins were made of non-precious metals, and were quickly despised by the public. This coin would be one of the first to be a base-metal composite coin as the coin itself was made of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The shield nickel as it became known, was only minted by the Philidelphia mint and only 125 million had been struck, by the time it was replaced in 1883.
In the year of FDR’s birth, another birth was coming to the US; the Liberty Head Nickel. This coin designed by the famous (or infamous depending on the collector you’re talking to) Charles Barber. This coin was a change in design as well as shape for the nickel as the chief engraver for the mint used Barber’s design to increase the size of the nickel to help extend the life of the dies.However, this change along with Barber’s original design would end in disaster. After a special unveiling of the coin where the coin was handed out as a gift to dignitaries, the coin was then mass struck for consumption, but, there was one chief flaw in Barber’s design. He had not placed the word “cents” underneath the roman numeral V on the reverse of the coin.
This lack of designation lead to con men at the time to gold plate the coin and pass them off as $5 eagles, since the coin was the same size as one of the more valuable dollar coins. This was quickly remedied but the coins were already in circulation. This coin produced one of the most coveted rarities for the numismatic world, when 5 of the coins were discovered to have been illegally printed the same year that the Buffalo Nickel was supposed to be used.
We’ve written about the Buffalo Nickel before, when we did an article on some of the most sought after coins by collectors. This coin has a very rich history, as this featured a non-anglicized Native American on our country’s coinage. If you’re curious about it’s history you can read more about it here.
Jefferson Nickel (1938-)
This leads us to our current nickel which is known as the Jefferson Nickel. This version of the coin has been in production continuously since 1938. Will this change at some point? Possibly. However, a coin honoring one of our founding fathers will be hard to replace.
Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed this look at one of our oldest coins. For any of your numismatic needs, feel free to check out our inventory of great collectibles, including some of those talked about here.
Gary Dyner is the owner of Great American Coin Company. Connect with him on Google+.