I suspect when the Founding Fathers authorized the issue of the first coins, they never considered that some time later a five cent piece would sell for five million dollars.
The Liberty V Nickel was always a popular coin. The artist Charles Barber was commissioned to create three coins. Of the three, only the Liberty V Nickel was actually minted. 1883 saw the first Liberty V Nickels distributed for use.
The first of these coins didn’t say “Cents” on them. They simply had the Roman numeral V. This was taken advantage of by some who realized that the coin was very similar in size to a gold coin that was worth five dollars, at the time. The five dollar coin was known as the “Half Eagle”. A picture of it is shown here:
The less than scrupulous guys plated the Liberty V Nickels in gold and then used them for purchases. One man was caught, but was later acquitted. He never told anyone that the coin was actually worth five cents. He would simply use it and wait for the excess of change. It’s not illegal to accept incorrect change. He was deaf and mute, so his defense could easily refute any claim that he told anyone that it was worth more than five cents.
The word “Cents” was added to the coin in the first year of production, 1883. When acquiring these 1883 coins for your collection, you will see them labelled as to whether the word “Cents” is on the coin.
Key dates for the Liberty V Nickel are as follows:
The 1913 Liberty V Nickel draws the highest price – because there were only five of them minted. How they came to be minted at all is a bit of a mystery. These coins were not officially authorized by the U.S. Mint. The Buffalo Nickel was set to be struck in early 1913. Did they make the plates for the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel in case there was an unexpected delay in the production of the Buffalo Nickel? Was there a misunderstanding? Or, were they struck by a mint employee only to create a few coins other collector would have? No one can really say.
Two of the five 1913 Liberty V Nickels were proofs. The other three were produced with standard striking techniques.
The original set was owned by Samuel Brown. He was a numismatist and former employee of the U.S. Mint. He displayed them at the American Numismatic Association annual convention of 1920. The year before, he had placed ads asking for any information on these coins and offered $500.00 each. There is no record of any actual purchases. So, did he actually purchase them? Or, did he gain them by some other means and simply ran the ads to create a lot of interest in the coins?
And, he DID create a parade of interest in these coins. People checked their pockets religiously in hopes they would find these highly valuable nickels. Buses would fall behind schedule as conductors sifted through the coins they received in hopes of finding a coveted 1913 Liberty V Nickel.
In January 1924, Samuel Brown sold all five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. From there, the nickels passed through several famous hands. The price, for the most part, goes up and up. The highest price attained was for one of the proof Liberty V Nickels, at a staggering five million dollars! This occurred in 2007 to an unnamed collector in California.
If YOU would like to see some of these famed coins, several of them are on display in museums. In Chicago, the Money Museum has one. In Washington DC, Smithsonian Money Museum has one. And, the American Numismatic Association Money Museum of Colorado Springs has one. The websites of these museums are displayed below in the REFERENCES section.
Do you have a full set of Liberty V Nickels? (We won’t consider the 1913. You can just look at that one in the museum.)