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Three strikes against Liberty Head nickel

Three strikes and Liberty Head nickels are out with collectors.

Lack of a good looking design, lack of a grading consensus and few survivors in higher circulated grades combine to keep collectors away.

Liberty Head nickel Denomination: Five cents Weight: 5 grams Diameter: 21.2 mm Composition: Copper-nickel Dates Minted: 1883 (without cents), 1883 to 1913 (with cents) Designer: Charles E. Barber

Liberty Head nickel
Denomination: Five cents
Weight: 5 grams
Diameter: 21.2 mm
Composition: Copper-nickel
Dates Minted: 1883 (without cents) 1883-1913 (with cents)
Designer: Charles E. Barber

“They are ugly coins,” said Bill Miholer of Executive Coin Company, Stow, Ohio. “Personally, I don’t think they look good.

“As far as being a popular coin series, it ain’t it,” he said.

Harry Miller, owner of Miller’s Mint, Patchogue, N.Y., said one of the main reasons Liberty Head nickels are not wanted was due to a lack of a grading consensus.

“I think they are underappreciated as coins because there are vast differences in grading standards,” he said. “In the old grading standards, a fine coin required all seven letters of LIBERTY on the headband to be visible. For some of the recognized grading companies, you don’t need to have all the letters there.

“We don’t deal much in brilliant uncirculated (BU) Liberty Head nickels because there simply aren’t many BU ones out there that grade what I’d like.

“On the lower end of the grading scale, for a good Liberty Head nickel, some people say you need to have full lettering on the reverse. Others say you just need to have a full rim present on the reverse and some lettering.”

Even a single letter on the headband can mean the difference to some collectors, he said.

“Older collectors still want to have a full ‘I’ in LIBERTY as well,” he said. “Some of the weaker struck Liberty Head nickels don’t have a well-struck ‘I’ in the headband. I don’t buy fine Liberty Head nickels where you can’t see the ‘I.’”

Miholer said though his business stocks both low and high grades. It’s hard enough to even find higher grade Liberty Head nickels simply because most did their job: circulate.

“I’ve had customers where all they have is lower end Liberty Head nickels, worn so some of the rim is missing,” he said. “They are so plentiful and most are worn out. Some of them have the “V” on the reverse worn down to nothing.”

Miller said the lack of fine to about uncirculated (AU) Liberty Head nickels, much less properly graded ones, turns away a lot of collectors.

“Fine and up is really rare for Liberty Head nickels,” he said. “They are harder to find in very fine (VF) to extremely fine (XF) and true AU. Those are a good value.

“Over the years, I’ve bought thousands of Liberty Head nickels over the counter. Many were in old hoards or cigar boxes. It’s only one to two percent that you pull out that are in any grade above good.”

He said collectors should keep an eye on the semi-key and key date Liberty Head nickels.

“The semi-keys, the 1888, 1894, 1896 and 1912-D in higher grades, sell very well in XF,” he said. “The three key dates, the 1885, 1886 and 1912-S, are weak because they went up in price during the last market cycle.”

Even with recent weakness in price, the key dates are still show-stoppers to any Liberty Head nickel set.

“In low grades like good, you can find most Liberty Head nickels for less than a dollar,” he said. “For under $100, you could complete the set in good except for the keys. You’d need to spend $100 for the 1886 and 1912-S and a couple hundred for the 1885.”

However, he said collectors are much more willing to put their money into the Liberty Head nickel’s successor, the Buffalo nickel.

“Buffalo nickels are more popular,” Miller said. “The Western theme – the Indian head and the buffalo – is a more popular theme. They’ve overshadowed the Liberty Head nickels.”

If Liberty Head nickels ever get close to the appreciation that Buffalo nickels see, expect a change on the market. Atrocious hideousness or a beautiful series with a poor reputation? The debate between collectors will probably go on for years to come.

Those who want to learn and discuss more about the coins of Charles E. Barber can go to: http://www.barbercoins.org/. This is the webpage of the Barber Coin Collectors’ Society.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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