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United States five cent coin

The United States five cent coin, commonly called a nickel, is a unit of currency equaling one 1/20th of a United States dollar. Its current design features the profile of President Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and Monticello on the reverse. This design has been used since it was first issued in 1938 as a replacement for the buffalo nickel.

Nickels are 21.21 mm in diameter, 1.95 mm thick, with a plain edge. Except for a period during World War II, nickels are made out of an alloy of 25% nickel and 75% copper. In the middle of 1942, the composition changed to 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese, but this change in content ended in 1945.

For 2004, the reverse of the nickel will change, with two different designs during the year. In the spring, the reverse will have a design that is based on a rendition of the original Indian Peace Medal commissioned for Lewis and Clark's expedition. In autumn, the reverse changes again to feature a view of the keelboat in full sail that transported members of the expedition and their supplies through the rivers of the Louisiana Territory. One or more new reverses for the nickel are expected for 2005.

In 2002, the U.S. Mint proposed changing the reverse of the 2003 nickels as well, to show the image of an American Indian and a bald eagle facing west. Congress allows them to make changes to coinage every 25 years without specific authorization. But, Congressman Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), the Chief Deputy Majority Whip for his party, objected to the lack of consultation with Congress about their proposal, and was particularly concerned that Monticello, located in his district, would not return to the reverse of the nickel in 2006. There was also concern that the Mint's proposed new reverse did not relate specifically enough to Lewis & Clark or the Louisiana Purchase. This led to the enactment of Public Law 108-15, the American 5-cent Coin Design Continuity Act, in 2003, which modified the United States Code to require the return to a depiction of Monticello starting in January 2006. The controversy meant the Mint ran out of time to change the reverse of the nickel in 2003.

Table of contents
1 Shield Nickels
2 V Nickels
3 Buffalo Nickel
4 Jefferson Nickel
5 External Links

Shield Nickels

Shield Nickels were the first nickel five cent piece minted in the United States. (A three cent nickel piece was minted one year prior) Before this point, 5 cent pieces were made out of silver, called half dimes, that were very small. Shield nickels were minted from 1866-1883. There is an early variety with rays going out from the 5 through the stars. These were minted only in 1866 and part of 1867. They were first minted in nickel due to shortages of small coinage due to silver hoarding during and after the civil war. There was also political intrigue originating from the owner of the only nickel mine in the United States at the time.

There were lots of errors in the Shield nickels because it was the mint's first experience with nickel which is a very hard metal. It is unusual to find a piece that does not have die cracks, and these trade for more in uncirculated condition unlike many other coins where die cracks are considered an interesting variety. There are many overdates, doubled dates and other punch errors.

V Nickels

V Nickels were minted from 1883-1912 with a special minting of 5 pieces in 1913, making these pieces one of the most rare and valuable us coins. One was auctioned at the Salt Lake ANA Show in March 2001 for 1.8 million dollars. There are many fake 1913s, mostly altered 1912 pieces. These coins were made famous by a dealer from Texas named Max Mehl who offered $50 for one of these in his advertisements. He never had to pay as no more were ever found, but it did make the coin very famous and desirable.

In July 2003, one of the five which had been missing for many years was finally located.

An interesting story surrounding the V nickel is about the 1883 without cents piece. You see, they were the same size as a five dollar gold piece. Several people plated these with gold, and attempted to pass them off as $5 gold pieces. One fellow, named Josh Tatum who was a deaf mute, passed hundreds of these all over the nation. He handed the coin to the store owner, and smiled and accepted the change for his 3 cent cigar or 2 cent piece of candy whether they handed him 2-3 cents or $4.97 cents. He'd tip his hat and go on. Josh got caught eventually, but his lawyer got him off since he had never said that it was a $5 gold piece. He didn't say anything at all you see... which was readily apparent to the jury. This is the origin of the word "joshing" meaning 'to fool'.

Buffalo Nickel

The buffalo nickel (also known as an Indian Head Nickel) was produced from 1913 to 1938 with a major type change in mid 1913. The mound on the reverse was changed to an incuse flat plane mid year because of wear problems. Unfortunately, they did not change the date placement, so many buffalo nickels have their dates completely worn off or nearly so. Dateless buffalo nickels are used to make belts and other things, so they aren't entirely worthless, but nearly so. Occasionally people will use acid to try and detect what a worn date is. This is occasionally useful in filling expensive holes in your collection. Some dateless buffalo nickels can have their date determined by very small die markers.

James E. Fraser's design is one often copied and is generally considered to be among the best designs for any US coin.

The mint mark (if present) is on the reverse beneath the Five Cents and above the rim. It could be a D for Denver, and S for San Francisco or nothing for Philadelphia.

See also Buffalo nickel

Jefferson Nickel

Jefferson nickels were made from 1938 through to the present with very little design change (the exception being the planned Lewis and Clark commemorative mentioned above.)

Jefferson nickels are one of the easiest sets of any denomination to collect from circulation. You can still find coins from the 40s in circulation on occasion. Since putting together collections from circulation is a fun way to start in the hobby, a Jefferson nickel set is a great place to start a coin collection with kids.

The reverse of the Jefferson nickle features Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson (who is featured on the obverse). Jefferson designed Monticello himself as he was a reasonably good architect. Many Jefferson nickle collectors look for fully struck steps on the image of Monticello. Premiums are paid for coins with 5 full steps and even more with 6 full steps. These are fairly rare, even on current issues. It requires a little practice and a lot of magnification to find one of these. Also lots of patience.

The Jefferson nickel was designed by Felix Schlag. He won a contest for the design. Production began in 1938 (noting that there were also buffalo nickels issued in 1938). The design is still current with minor modifications.

From mid 1942 to 1945, so called "Wartime" composition nickels were created. These coins are 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese. The only other US coin to use manganese (to my knowledge) are the current Sacajaweah dollars. These coins are usually a bit darker than regular nickels and feature the largest mint mark ever to grace a United States coin. The mint mark on these is above the dome on the reverse. Normally, the series features mint marks to the right of the Monticello building. If there is no mint mark there, then the coin was minted in Philadelphia. In the early 1980s, the mint mark was switched to the front of the coin, and P marks Philadelphia. Even these war nickels are occasionally found in circulation.

Proofs and special mint set coins (1965-67) as well as Matte Proofs exist, and have value above the regular issued coins.

See also: United States coinage

External Links (With pictures of each type)