Liberty Head nickels are a popular series of 5-cent coins that, as a regular production, ran from 1883 to 1912.
Liberty Head nickels are also sometimes referred to as V nickels (for the big Roman numeral V on the back of the coin) and Barber nickels. Barber, by the way, refers to the coin’s designer, Charles E. Barber.
Here are some fascinating facts about Liberty nickels and their values…
Only 33 Liberty Nickels
If you think about Liberty Head nickels for a moment, they really do not constitute a large series.
The design ran for only 29 years; 30 if you count the 5 rare 1913 Liberty Head nickels produced.
In fact, 1913 Liberty nickels are not even counted among the regular strikes. So you don’t really need to spend well over a million dollars at auction to buy one if you are shooting for a complete collection of Liberty nickels.
Only 33 different Liberty nickels are needed to have the entire regular-strike collection in your hands. Yet, the Liberty nickel series is not the easiest coin set to complete.
Most dates in the series are common, especially in the lower circulated grades. However, there are a few truly scarce dates in the series. These are the ones that will take a big nip out of your wallet when you go to buy them.
Interestingly, the 1912-S is one of only 2 Liberty nickels with mintmarks in the series. The 1912-D is the other mintmarked Liberty nickel.
V Nickel Circulations And Values
The series includes two varieties:
- the no-cents variety — lasted for only months during the series’ first year of striking, 1883.
- the with-cents version — prevailed for the rest of the series, and for good reason.
While a lower number of the 1883 no-cents nickels were made (5,479,519 minted), they are actually less expensive than the higher-mintage (16,032,983) 1883 with-cents nickels.
Like most coins in their first year, many of the no-cents nickels were saved by the public. That explains the relatively large supply of no-cents nickels in high grades.
The no-cents nickel can be bought for around $5 to $8 in lower grades and less than $35 in uncirculated grade.
The with-cents 1883 nickel starts at around $25 in low circulated grades and costs about $200 to obtain in uncirculated.
Most of the 1880s and 1890s dates in the Liberty nickel series can be had for less than $20 to $30 each in decent, circulated grades. All but one of the 1900s dates can be bought for less than $7 to $10 each in the same grades.
But there are a few dates in the series that will trip you up if you are on a budget.
- 1885 (1,476,490 minted) $625-2,750 for Good-4 to Mint State-60
- 1886 (3,330,290 minted) $275-1,450 for Good-4 to Mint State-60
- 1912-S (238,000 minted) $140-1,900 for Good-4 to Mint State 60
Collecting Liberty Head Nickels
As mentioned earlier, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel is generally not considered part of the regular series of coins. But that has not stopped people from clamoring to get their hands on the coin. A recent auction sale of a 1913 Liberty nickel brought in the second-highest price ever paid for a coin — $4.15 million
Liberty Head nickels can be collected as a set, and many people today try to collect every date in the series. However, a number of people buying Liberty nickels today often are trying to build type sets. Type sets include one example of every design for a certain kind of range of coins — either by denomination, year, decade, or century, coin designer; etc.
Many desirable type sets have coins in high grades. High-grade Liberty nickels can be fairly difficult to locate compared to the ease of finding very low-grade, worn examples of the coin.
However, if you are seeking an uncirculated specimen of the Liberty nickel for your collection, you can in fact find one for as little as $30 to $40 if you buy a no-cents variety. If you would rather have the with-cents version for your type set, you can expect to pay around $75 to $90 for an example from the 1900s.
Liberty nickels have not been regularly seen in circulation for several decades. However, because tens of millions exist, it is not at all uncommon to find them tucked away in trunks, old cans, or boxes. They may also be parts of other little treasure stashes that are found in attics, basements, drawers, and buried away in the yards of older properties.
Liberty nickels can easily be found at most coin dealers. If you are hoping to add Liberty nickels to your collection, be sure to check out your nearest coin dealer or search online for them.
V Nickels Confused WIth 5 Dollar Coins
In 1883, when the V nickel first entered circulation, there was also a $5 gold coin with a design similar to that of the Liberty nickel.
A man named Josh Tatum gold-plated and put straight lines on the edge (the lines were to replicate edge reeding) of some of these 1883 no-cents nickels and successfully passed them off to store clerks who failed to notice Tatum was actually turning in gold-plated nickels — not $5 gold coins!
As the story goes, Tatum went to court but was acquitted because he never actually asked store clerks to give him the amount of change needed for items bought based on his paying with a 5 dollar coin. Why? Because Tatum was deaf and mute.
To solve the problem, the U.S. Mint prudently added the words 5 cents to the reverse of the nickel under the wreath in which you can find the big Roman numeral V — which indicates the value of the coin, 5 cents.
These gold-plated Liberty nickels have been famously dubbed Racketeer nickels. Many replicas of these can be found on the market today.