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Nickel (United States coin)
The United States five-cent coin, commonly called a nickel, is a unit of currency equaling one-twentieth, or five hundredths, of a United States dollar.
The nickel's design since 1938 has featured a profile of President Thomas Jefferson on the obverse. From 1938 to 2003, Monticello was featured on the reverse. For 2004 and 2005, nickels featured new designs to commemorate the bicentennials of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition; these new designs were called the Westward Journey nickel series. In 2006, Monticello returned to the reverse, while a new image of Jefferson facing forward was featured on the obverse.
Additional recommended knowledge
Prior to introduction of the nickel, five-cent pieces were very small silver coins called half dimes. Due to shortages of silver during and after the American Civil War, an alternative metal was needed for five-cent coinage, and the copper-nickel alloy still in use today was selected. Numerous problems plagued the coinage of nickels through the middle of the 20th century due to the extreme hardness of the alloy, but modern minting equipment has proven more than adequate for the task.
Nickels have always had a value of one cent per gram (even when special nickel-free versions were issued temporarily during World War II). They were designed as 5 grams in the metric units when they were introduced in 1866, shortly before the Act of July 28, 1866 declared the metric system to be legal for use in the United States.
Applying the term "nickel" to a coin actually precedes the usage of five-cent pieces made from nickel alloy. The term was originally applied to the Indian Head cent coin from 1859–1864 which was composed of copper-nickel. Throughout the Civil War these cents were referred to as "nickels" or "nicks". When the three-cent nickel came onto the scene in 1865, these were the new "nickels" to the common person on the street. In 1866, the Shield nickel hit the spotlight and forever changed the way Americans associated coins made from nickel alloy with a particular denomination.
Local calls placed from public phone booths in the United States cost a nickel in most places until the early 1950s, when the charge was doubled to a dime (10 cents). However, in some places — notably in New Orleans, but mostly in scattered rural areas — the price for such calls remained at a nickel as late as the mid-1970s. This gave rise to the phrase "It's your nickel" in conversations to refer to the prerogative of the person who paid for the phone call to steer the conversation. Cost of a ride on a public transit vehicle — such as a bus or subway — also stood at a nickel during the same period that a pay-phone call carried that charge, in many cities.
Shield nickel (1866–1883)
The shield nickel, designed by James B. Longacre, was the first nickel five-cent piece minted in the United States, in accordance with the Act of May 16, 1866. There is an early variety with rays passing from the numeral 5 through the spaces between the stars. These were minted only in 1866 and part of 1867. Longacre's original design had failed to take into account the difficulties of minting with such a hard alloy, and the rays caused a general lack of detail in areas on the opposite face of the coin.
The metallurgical difficulties were the source of many minting errors in the Shield nickels. It is unusual to find a piece that does not have die cracks, and such examples trade for more in uncirculated condition, unlike many other coins where die cracks are considered an interesting variety with slight to moderate premium value. There are also many overdates, doubled dates and other punch errors.
Liberty Head V nickel (1883–1913)
Liberty Head (V) Nickels were officially minted from 1883 to 1912. However, an unknown mint official illegally produced an unknown quantity of V Nickels with the date 1913. There are currently only five known genuine examples of this 1913 coin (though many counterfeits exist), making them some of the most valuable coins in existence. At one point, all five known 1913 coins were owned by Colonel E.H.R Green, son of the famous Hetty Green. The "Olsen specimen", named for a previous owner, was auctioned in 2003 for $3 million. Legend Numismatics, a coin dealership in Lincroft, New Jersey, bought another from collector Ed Lee of Merrimack, New Hampshire on June 2, 2005 for $4.15 million, the second-highest price ever paid for a rare U.S. coin. These coins were made famous by B. Max Mehl, a coin dealer from Texas, who in the 1930s placed advertisements in newspapers throughout the United States offering $50 for one of these nickels. No one took him up on the offer, which was in reality an advertising ploy for his business (and its "Star Rare Coins Encyclopedia and Premium Catalogue"), but numismatists credit his search as contributing to increased interest in coin collecting.
The original 1883 issue lacked the word "cents" on the reverse. Since the nickels were the same size as five-dollar gold pieces, some counterfeiters plated them with gold and attempted to pass them off as such. According to legend, a deaf-mute person named Josh Tatum was the chief perpetrator of this fraud, and he could not be convicted because he simply gave the coins in payment for purchases of less than five cents, but did not protest if he was given change appropriate to a five-dollar coin. There is no historical record of Tatum outside of numismatic folklore, however, so the story may well be apocryphal.
Sometimes the 1883 nickel is referred to as the "Racketeer Nickel", and Josh Tatum is sometimes cited as the source of the saying, "You're not Joshin' me, are you?"
V nickels were minted only at Philadelphia until 1912, when Denver and San Francisco each minted a small quantity. All five 1913 examples were minted in Philadelphia. The D or S mint mark is located on the reverse, just below the left-hand dot near the seven-o'-clock position on the rim.
Buffalo nickel (1913–1938)
The buffalo nickel (also known as the Indian head nickel) was produced from 1913 to 1938, inclusive. Mint marks for the coins are on the reverse, beneath the words "Five Cents" and above the rim. The Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints all participated in the mintage, though San Francisco generally had a much smaller annual production than either of the other two mints.
The buffalo nickel, as designed by James Earle Fraser, featured a profile of a Native American on the obverse and an American Bison (buffalo) on the reverse. Fraser said he used Indian chiefs in the composite portrait. His memory was often faulty in this regard. The most likely models were Iron Tail, Two Moons and Adoeette. Adoeette was also known as Big Tree. There are several Indians who claimed to have been models for the coin, including Two Gun White Horse and Isaac Johnny John John Big Tree. They are sometimes incorrectly named as having posed for Fraser. Neither did. The model for the bison may have been "Black Diamond," from New York City's Central Park Zoo. Fraser's design is generally considered to be among the best designs of any U.S. coin. Matte proof coins were specially struck for collectors from 1913 to 1917 at the Philadelphia mint.
There was a type change in mid-1913 when the mound on the reverse was changed mid-year to an incuse flat plane because of wear problems. Thus, with the three mints, there are six types of 1913 nickels. There was no change to the date placement, so the dates on many early buffalo nickels have been completely worn off. As the series progressed, the date was gradually struck with larger and bolder numerals, which ameliorated the problem.
Often, dateless buffalo nickels can have their dates "restored" by applying a ferric chloride solution to the date area. From a collecting standpoint this destroys the value of the coin, taking it from "very worn" to "very worn and chemically damaged". In addition to weak dates, many buffalo nickels — especially those minted in Denver or San Francisco in the 1920s — are found with the horn and/or tail on the reverse, or the word "LIBERTY" on the obverse, badly struck and lacking complete detail. The 1926-D is particularly noted for these defects.
Four valuable varieties exist in the series. In 1918 some of the Denver mint nickels were minted from a redated 1917 die. The resulting 1918/7-D overdate is a rare and sought-after coin. This previously occurred with 1914 Philadelphia strikes, showing traces of a 3 under the last digit in the date. Also, in 1937 excessive polishing of a Denver mint die following a die clash removed most of the right foreleg, leading to the famous "three legged" variety. One estimate is that the number released may be only about 20,000, and specimens in higher grades are particularly valuable. Collectors should be cautious when purchasing this variety since counterfeits have been extensively produced. A 1936-D "3 1/2 leg" variety also exists. However, the most valuable is the 1916 doubled die. The most well preserved examples of this variety trade for between $250,000 and $500,000 when they appear at public auction.
Some 1.2 billion buffalo nickels were issued during the coin's 26-year lifespan, and only one date/mintmark combination (the 1926-S) had a mintage of less than 1 million. No buffalo nickels were made in 1922, 1932, or 1933. The lack of 1922 nickels, as well as some other denominations, resulted from the Mint's placing a priority on silver dollar production in that year, and no nickels — and many other denominations — were issued in 1932 or 1933 due to the Great Depression.
Because some people consider this design to be one of the best ever used on American coinage, the Mint has reused the design on the 2001 commemorative buffalo dollar and the 2006-Date American Buffalo gold bullion coin.
Profile of Jefferson nickel (1938–2004)
The Jefferson nickel, designed by Felix Schlag in a Mint-sponsored contest, was minted beginning in 1938. (In 1966 his initials were added to the base of the bust.) The obverse features a profile of Thomas Jefferson, while the reverse features his Virginian estate, Monticello. All three mints turned out vast quantities of Jefferson nickels until 1954, when San Francisco halted production for 14 years, resuming only from 1968 to 1970. Since 1970, all nickels for circulation have been minted at Philadelphia and Denver. Mint marks may be found on the reverse, in the right field between Monticello and the rim, on nickels from 1938 to 1964. From 1965 to 1967, no mint marks were used, and beginning in 1968, the mint mark was moved to the obverse, just below the date, where it remains today. In 1980, the Philadelphia mint began using a "P" mint mark on all nickels. This design is by far the most common currently in circulation.
From mid 1942 to 1945, so-called "Wartime" composition nickels were created. These coins are 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese. The only other U.S. coins to use manganese are the Sacagawea and presidential dollars. These coins are usually a bit darker than regular nickels, said to be due to their manganese content (as was true of many British coins minted from 1920 through 1947). However, carefully-protected proof sets of these coins are difficult to tell from the standard alloy. A more likely reason for the darker appearance of the wartime coin was due to exposure to sulfur during circulation, which invariably gave the coins a mild and somewhat distinctive dark silver tarnish.
The wartime nickel features the largest mint mark ever to grace a United States coin, located above Monticello's dome on the reverse. This mark was a large D or S if appropriate for those mints, but nickels of this series minted in Philadelphia have the unique distinction of being the only U.S. coins minted prior to 1979 to bear a P mint mark. When the price of silver rose in the 1960s the "war nickels" quickly disappeared from circulation, a process often aided by their distinctive silver-tarnish appearance, which sometimes appeared in banded form from contact of coins with sulfur-containing elastic bands in pockets.
An unofficial variety of the wartime coin dated 1944 was made in 1954 when counterfeit nickels were produced by Francis LeRoy Henning of Erial, New Jersey. He had previously been arrested for counterfeiting $5 bills. The 1944 nickels were quickly spotted since Henning neglected to add the large mintmark. He also made counterfeit nickels dated 1939, 1946, 1947 and 1953. It is estimated that more than 100,000 of Henning's nickels reached circulation. These can still be found in pocket change, and there is a thriving collectors' market for them, although owning a counterfeit is technically illegal. Henning dumped another 200,000 nickels in Copper Creek, New Jersey, of which only 14,000 were recovered. Another 200,000 are thought to have been dumped in the Schuylkill River. When caught, Henning was sentenced to 3 years in jail, and was required to pay a $5,000 fine.
Jefferson nickels are one of the easiest sets of any denomination to collect from circulation. One can still find coins from the 1940s in circulation on occasion. Many Jefferson nickel collectors look for fully struck steps on the image of Monticello. Premiums are paid for coins with five or six full steps. These are fairly rare, even on current issues. Proofs and special mint set coins (1965–1967), as well as matte proofs, exist, and have value above circulating coinage. Specialists look for the number of discernable steps on the facade of Monticello, and those without wear are known as "Full Step" Jefferson Nickels. One of the rarest, or "key dates" of the series is the 1950-D nickel. It has the lowest mintage of all the Jeffersons minted. However, they are not hard to find in higher grades, since it was known by the public from the beginning that the mintage was low, and thus they were hoarded. In uncirculated condition, the 1939-D, 1939-S, and 1942-D are far rarer than the 1950-D and command higher prices than any other coins in the series.
Westward Journey nickel series
Throughout the 20th century, Congress allowed the U.S. Mint to make changes to coinage every 25 years without specific authorization. Since the 1990s the government had begun to respond to lobbying in favor of changing coinage design. This led to the State Quarters series and in 2002, a proposal to change 2003 nickels as well. Initial proposals by the Mint had a new obverse based on a portrait by Gilbert Stuart, and a reverse with an American Indian and a bald eagle facing west.
Congressman Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), the Chief Deputy Majority Whip for his party, objected to the lack of consultation with Congress about their proposal, and was particularly concerned that Monticello, located near his district, would not return to the reverse of the nickel in 2006. Some raised the issue that the Mint's proposed new reverse did not relate specifically enough to Lewis & Clark or the Louisiana Purchase, the events that the proposed changes were meant to commemorate. This led to the enactment of Public Law 108-15, the American 5-cent Coin Design Continuity Act, in 2003. This act, originally dubbed the Keep Monticello on the Nickel Act by Cantor, modified the United States Code to require the return to a depiction of Monticello starting in January 2006, and permanently eliminate the Mint's right to change it again without Congressional approval. The delay and controversy meant the Mint ran out of time to change the reverse of the nickel in 2003.
Upon passage of Cantor's new law, the Mint proposed the Westward Journey nickel series. The series consisted of two new reverse designs for 2004 and two for 2005.
In 2004, the reverse of the nickel changed, with two different designs during the year. The first design, placed into circulation on March 1, 2004, featured a design based upon a rendition of the original Indian Peace Medal commissioned for Lewis and Clark's expedition. It was designed by Norman E. Nemeth.
In the autumn of 2004, the reverse changed again to feature a view of Lewis and Clark's keelboat in full sail that transported members of the Corps of Discovery expedition and their supplies through the rivers of the Louisiana Territory. This design depicts Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in full uniform, standing in the bow of the keelboat. This nickel was designed by Al Maletsky.
On September 16, 2004, the U.S. Mint unveiled its new designs for 2005. They had been chosen by John W. Snow on July 22, 2004 but were not disclosed to the public. The U.S. Mint revealed that the Felix Schlag depiction of Thomas Jefferson was being done away with in favor of a more modern depiction of Jefferson. The new obverse of the Jefferson nickel was designed by Joe Fitzgerald and engraved by Don Everhart II. Its circulation began on February 28, 2005.
Also unveiled on September 16, 2004 were two new reverses. A depiction of the American bison temporarily returns to the reverse after a 67-year absence. The new reverse was designed by Jamie N. Franki and engraved by Norman E. Nemeth. The U.S. Mint had been lobbied to include the American bison on the nickel in the hope of keeping the public interested in its continuing recovery after nearly being hunted to extinction after the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
The final Westward Journey nickel reverse was designed by Joe Fitzgerald and engraved by Donna Weaver. It depicts the Pacific Ocean and the words from William Clark's diary upon reaching it. In a controversial move, the U.S. Mint decided to amend Clark's actual words. He had originally written, "Ocian in view! O! The Joy!" but as the spelling "ocian" is nonstandard (and might have led to hoarding in the mistaken belief that the Mint had made an error that would soon be corrected), the U.S. Mint decided to modify it to "ocean".
Forward-Facing Jefferson (2006- )
In 2006, the nickel returned to using Felix Schlag's Monticello design on a newly cast reverse, while the obverse features a new forward-facing portrait of Jefferson, based on the 1800 Rembrandt Peale painting of Jefferson. It is the first U.S. circulating coin that features the image of a President facing forward. The new obverse was designed by Jamie Franki. The word Liberty is shown in Jefferson's own handwriting, as it was on the 2005 Westward Journey nickels.
As of December 14 2007, the value of the metal in the coin has reached 5.5759 cents, a 1.11518 premium over its face value, due to the rising costs of copper and nickel against a falling U.S. Dollar. In an attempt to avoid losing large quantities of circulating nickels to melting, the United States Mint introduced new interim rules on December 14, 2006 criminalizing the melting and export of pennies and nickels. Violators of these rules can be punished with a fine of up to $10,000, five years imprisonment, or both.
Nickels minted from 1942-1945 during World War II contain 1.75 g (0.05626 oz) silver. The silver content of these "war nickels" as of October, 2007 is worth $0.77.
Jefferson profile, 1938-2003
"War nickels", 1942-1945 (35% silver)
Jefferson profile, (resumes)
Westward Journey series, 2004-2005
Jefferson forward, 2006-present
Books and articles
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Nickel_(United_States_coin)". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|