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1885 nickel

Just when you think it is safe to totally ignore a certain coin, it catches fire and makes you look foolish. I readily admit that the 1885 Liberty Head nickel did that to me. Out of nowhere, it simply soared in price.

If your investment newsletter writer has been promoting the 1885 Liberty Head nickel in recent years, extend your subscription. But if not, don’t be too quick to cancel – I am likely not the only one who failed to see a doubling in price for the 1885 in G-4 coming.

While not the lowest mintage Liberty Head nickel, the 1885 is considered low at 1,476,490. The problem some of us have is that back in 1885 there were all sorts of low mintages, so the 1885 Liberty Head nickel doesn’t look so tough. But, for example, the 1885 half dollar had a mintage of just 6,130 pieces. Today it is at $390 in G-4, which is $210 less than the 1885 nickel in the same grade.

It was a low mintage year for virtually every denomination because all the mints were busy making Morgan dollars. But in comparison to a large number of dates, the 1885 Liberty Head nickel does not seem cheap. In fact, in the entire history of the United States if we do not count proof-only dates and errors, the 1885 and the 1880 are the most expensive regular date nickels. However, the mintage of the 1880 nickel, produced just 5 years earlier, was a mere 19,995. There might be more demand for a Liberty Head nickel than a Shield nickel. But is there really that much more demand that we can justify similar prices for two coins of the same denomination produced five years apart but with such a significant mintage difference?

To even be in the same league with a date like the 1880 and other tough dates, the 1885 had to have a history that involved serious neglect. We know that in the 1880s and 1890 there was something of a slow period in the rare coin market. The 1890s saw tough economic times and during the entire period proof sales, which are usually a good indication of collecting activity, dropped. In all probability, the 1885 was not saved.

Littleton Coin Company purchased 360,000 Liberty Head nickels in the mid 1980s. According to Littleton, the unsearched hoard produced just 25 examples of the 1885. It’s not absolute proof, but a definite sign that the 1885 was much tougher than anyone anticipated.

Certainly in recent times the 1885 is acting like a sleeper that has just had a wake-up call. In 1998 the 1885 was $265 in G-4, and today its G-4 price is $600. In 1998 the 1885 was $855 in MS-60, and today it is $2,050. In MS-65 it was at $1,750 in 1998, but today it is at $8,400. Grading service totals indicate that the 1885 is a very tough coin in MS-65 but a much more available one in Prf-65, where the current price is just $3,350.

The 1885 is clearly a better date, but  does it justify the current prices?

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