Liberty Head V Nickel Collecting Guide

It seems like when people discuss their coin collections, you don’t find many people who collect nickels. Look in the coin catalogs and they are not even listed for sale at times. My latest issue of the ICC catalog shows very little in the way of nickels. This confuses me. I realize that collecting dimes, quarters, halves and dollars are more popular to collect but nickels hold history and worth that should be preserved.

The Liberty Head V Nickel is a good example of why nickels should get a little more attention. Even if your collection holds just a couple varieties of coins, I’ve long thought that collectors and dabblers should have an example of other coins if the budget allows. Having one example of each coin that you don’t collect is still preserving history. I have all the coins I write about and I like learning about each and every one of them.

The Liberty Head V Nickel was officially minted from 1883 to 1912. There were none officially minted in 1913 although there are 5 known examples of a 1913 date. The Libery Head V Nickel was only for the most part minted in Philadelphia with a small amount minted in Denver and San Francisco in 1912. The 5 known examples of the 1913 were minted in Philadelphia.

Designed by Charles Barber, these were the first base-metal five cent piece. It replaced the Shield Nickel which was thought to have a bland design and wasn’t well accepted. At the time the Liberty Head V Nickel was designed, there was no law protecting the Shield Nickel’s design which is why it was only minted for 17 years rather than the 25 the design law states now. This is how the V Nickel came to be.

The obverse depicts Liberty with stars and the reverse shows the Roman Numeral V with a wreath.

Unveiled in a ceremony on January 30, 1883 where dignitaries were in attendance receiving first strike examples of the V Nickel, the design was well received and was set to be popular with the public. Regular coinage was struck and distributed later in that week. With all the excitement of the new V Nickel, nobody noticed the flaw in the design. When discoverd, the celebrating quickly turned to panic. Barber’s design of the V Nickel failed to include the word “CENTS” at the bottom reverse of the coin. This created a crisis for the government as less than upstanding citizens were plating them in gold and passing them off as $5 gold pieces to merchants. They were, afterall, comparable in size to the half eagle. With the year at it was and communications at a snails pace compared to our instant news today, by the time word spread about the omission, many merchants had been taken for quite a bit of merchandise. People put away the so-called “no cent” V Nickel thinking that it would, one day, be more valueable than the corrected coin with the word CENTS on the back. Ironically, finding good quality no cent V Nickels are rather common and quite reasonably priced. Rarely will a collector find one of the manipulated plated V nickels and their value as a collector’s item is not large but their historical appeal is quite high. Even the non-gold plated no cent V Nickel is quite a conversation starter. There were approximately 5.5 million no cent nickels struck before the error was discovered.

After the uproar of the no cent back V nickel had been corrected, this coin settled into a simple existance for the remainder of it’s life series. This collection is easily obtainable in its entirety although some key dates will be more expensive to obtain, they are out there. Some of these include 1885, 1886 and 1912-S for low mintage but not in great rarities. 1912-S only has a mintage of 238,000 and at the lowest, will be more expensive to obtain and may take additional time to find. On the other side of the mintage spectrum is the 1911 which had 39.5 million minted. Each year also had proof sets available but if you are looking for proof sets rather than circulated sets, be prepared to fork out some additional money for those. Proofs in any year and in any demoniation are more expensive.

Overall, due to the large numbers of these coins, they are readily available in high grades and conditions. Points to check for wear are Libery’s ear, corn ears and wreath on the reverse. Starter sets with 8 Liberty Head V Nickels can be found for as littel as $20 at some online retailers.


Diameter: 21.2 millimeters Weight: 5 grams Composition: .750 copper, .250 nickel Edge: Plain

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