Adam Starkey

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Liberty Head Nickels

The Liberty Head nickel was the second 5-cent coin to be struck in that metal, following the Shield nickels of 1866-1883. When introduced in 1883, the reverse featured a Roman numeral V to indicate 5-cents. The inclusion of the word “cents” was not considered necessary, as the 3-cent piece had circulated uneventfully for years with only Roman numerals. It quickly became apparent that the omission of “cents” was a serious issue, as people began gold plating the nickels and passing them as $5 gold pieces, which had a similar size. A famous tale was that of Jeff Tatum, a deaf-mute who was said to enter a store, purchase an item valued at 5 cents or less, and pay with a gold-plated nickel.  If the clerk did not notice, he would be given $4.95 in change. It is said that such was the origin of the expression “just Joshing you!” Regardless, the Mint was particularly disturbed and ordered a modification by June of 1883 to include the word cents. The Liberty nickel was produced in this fashion through 1913. Only 5 specimens are known to exist from 1913, making it one of the most famous and coveted rarities. Indeed, a 1913 Liberty Head nickel sold for over $5 million in 2007!

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