It is widely assumed that the only better Liberty Head nickels after 1900 were the 1912-D and 1912-S. While the 1912-D is slightly better as the first Denver Liberty Head nickel, it is not that elusive. Even though it’s certainly not on par with the 1912-S, it would be safe to say that the lower mintage 1909 is a slightly better Liberty Head nickel.
The key to the 1909 is its mintage, which is just 11,585,763 with 4,763 being proofs. The last time there had been a low business strike Liberty Head nickel mintage was all the way back in 1896. In the case of proofs, the mintage was large. You have to go all the way back to 1883 to find a large total. However the 1886 was close, as it too topped 4,000.
The 1909 probably had a small mintage for a couple of reasons, not the least of which being that there had been high nickel mintages for years. The last total below 20 million pieces was the 1898. The U.S. was not short of nickel supplies back in 1909.
Another factor, perhaps influenced by the significant nickel mintages of previous years, was the release of the new Lincoln cent in 1909. There was the well-known problem of production being stopped to remove the designer’s initials, and there was also large mintages of the new cents due to great demand.
With pressure to produce more Lincoln cents it was natural that something had to give, and it appears that was nickel production. The nickel was a popular and heavily used denomination, but for a short period its production was cut back to make sure there were enough cents.
We cannot be too certain about the amount of saving of the 1909 Liberty Head nickel. In some respects it is doubtful because of the heavy proof total. At the time people would often buy the proof instead of obtaining a business strike. That certainly made sense since in 1909 no nickel had ever been made outside of Philadelphia.
By 1909 the law prohibiting nickel production outside Philadelphia had been repealed, but it would be a few more years before any would be made at Denver or San Francisco. In 1909 collectors had no reason to change their collecting patterns, so there is reason to suspect that the bulk of the 1909 Liberty Head nickels saved were proofs. Today it has a Prf-65 price of $675, while an MS-65 is at $1,350.The grading service totals suggest that the price difference between the two could be even greater. That said, the MS-60 price of $105 is very reasonable considering the circumstances.
The 1909’s G-4 price of $2.20 is higher than the other dates of the period, which is interesting since the 1909 is usually lumped with the other higher mintage dates as available. There is not a great price spread, but the 1909 is better than the other dates of the period even though it is not usually recognized as being a tougher date.