Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Excerpts by Henry Lane Hull

The year was 1905. Theodore Roosevelt was entering his first elected term of office as President of the United States. The following year he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1905 to end the Russo-Japanese War. America clearly was on the rise as a world power, as witnessed by Roosevelt’s sending the Great White Fleet of warships around the world to demonstrate American global hegemony.

United States currency in the form of the dollar was on the way to becoming the international monetary standard. The currency and coinage we produced were accepted as legitimate everywhere. In that respect the year saw the Bureau of the Mint produce coinage that included 28,827,276 Liberty Head V nickels.

Flashing forward 118 years to 2023, I recently made a modest purchase in a small retail shop in Kilmarnock, for which item I paid cash. When the clerk handed me the change, I put it in my pocket and left for home. That evening as I took the change out of my pocket, I beheld in the group of coins an unusual nickel, indeed one of those near-29 million that were minted in 1905.

The coin was well worn, but the date is clear. Miss Liberty’s features are blurred from the wear of the thousands of hands through which the coin has passed, but the 13 stars around her head are not. On the reverse, the V is distinct, as is the word “CENTS,” although the coin is considerably thinner than it was originally, obviously the result of more than a century of exchanges in the marketplaces of our country. The laurel wreath surrounding the “V” also is worn quite heavily.

The Liberty Head V nickel was produced from 1883 until 1912, with an additional five coins being minted in 1913, the year the design was replaced by the Buffalo or Indian Head nickel. The Liberty Head design was the work of Charles Barber, who had succeeded his father as the Chief Engraver at the U. S. Mint. 

Barber previously had designed a $4 gold coin, which was not mass produced, but the nickel is his first coin minted for national distribution. Barber is also famous for his silver dimes, quarters and half-dollars that followed the Liberty Head nickel, and which often are referred to as “Barbers.”

Initially, the reverse of the nickel did not include the word “Cents,” but as the coin was nearly the same size as the $5 gold piece, it was added to keep shady characters from gold-plating the coins and then trying to exchange them as $5 coins with unsuspecting merchants in payment for goods or services rendered. Apparently, in his original design, Barber thought that the Roman numeral “V” would suffice for delineating the coin’s value.

This specimen is the oldest coin I ever have received in trade. I checked on its value, and found that, given its well-worn condition as well as its high mintage number, it is only worth between $2 and $3. Unfortunately, it is not one of the five minted in 1913, which means that its value will not be sufficient to lead me to opt for an early retirement.

The nickel’s passage from Philadelphia in 1905 to Kilmarnock in 2023 has caused me to speculate on how it survived in commerce over such a long span of time. Its heavy wear indicates that it was not in some collector’s coin book, but rather out there being traded back and forth. In its early days on the market, it might have been used to buy a quart of milk or a loaf of bread, whereas today it is barely sufficient to pay the tax on a dollar item.

The moral of this tale is, watch the change you receive in trade. It might be old and/or valuable.

Rappahannock Record Staff
Rappahannock Record Staff
From the Rappahannock Record news team

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