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Liberty head makes branch debut in 1912

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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While not as tough as the 1912-S, the 1912-D Liberty nickel is every bit as historic and it’s actually a better date than many realize. That makes it a good coin for a collection and an important coin in U.S. numismatic history.

Prior to 1912 there had been no production of nickels at any facility other than Philadelphia. There was actually a reason for the unusual situation.

It seems that at the height of their power, the Western mining interests had managed to make it illegal to produce coins that contained no silver or gold at any mints outside of Philadelphia. The idea made sense to them since they basically viewed the mints as a place to turn their metal into coins and if the facility was not using their silver or gold, it could not possibly be helping the mine owners.

It might seem extreme, but there has been something of a history of the mine owners wanting to use the coins of the U.S. as the best way to sell their metal. You can’t blame them for trying. Stretching back to the late 1840s when the gold interests were pushing denominations from the gold dollar to a gold $100, they tried sometimes with success.

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There can, however, be some strange ideas that pop into your head when all you can think about is how to make more coins from the metal in your mine. That seemed to be the case as to make change, things like cents and nickels can come in handy. Of course it is a problem if the mints in the region do not make cents and nickels. The Philadelphia facility made those denominations but, being thousands of miles away, officials did not feel like shipping train car loads of cents and nickels to the West.

Finally after years of that nonsense, the mine owners got the message that unless they wanted to go back to using nuts and beans as coins to make change they were going to have to change. It might not have been phrased precisely that way, but the point got across and the law was changed. Even with the change, it took a couple years before San Francisco tried a cent production in 1908. Things were even slower at Denver, but that could be because it was a new facility and perhaps there were other priorities.

Since the mines had not closed with the advent of cent production at the local mints, in 1912 it was time to take the next big step and produce nickels at both Denver and San Francisco. However, San Francisco’s production of just 238,000 barely counted as a quantity. It is by far the lowest nickel mintage of the past century.

By comparison, the historic 1912-D might seem to have a large mintage at 8,474,000. The total is not that large as few Liberty Head nickels, especially after the 1880s, would have mintages of less than 10 million, but it has always looked large compared to the 1912-S.

The 1912-D has always been available in circulated grades. It is priced at just $2.75 in G-4 and is just $11.50 in F-12. Coins in these grades are available because they were pulled from circulation by later generations of collectors.

In terms of the collectors at the time, there really was limited collecting of nickels. Moreover, the significance of the first nickel from Denver was probably not as apparent as it might be today. The situation results in a $280 price in MS-60 while an MS-65 is $2,200. These Mint State listings should not be taken lightly as the MS-60 price is only behind the better dates and keys.

The Professional Coin Grading Service total for the 1912-D is exactly 100 coins in MS-65 and above with 80 in MS-65 and 20 in MS-66. That is not a large total and one that could easily dry up with some additional demand.

In any grade, the 1912-D is probably a good buy as this is a truly historical issue. It is also a better coin since both the mintage and available examples are lower than might be expected.

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