Gerald Tebben goes behind the scenes and explores many offbeat trails in bringing to the forefront the long-lost information that makes coins so special in “Coin Lore.”
Mint Director James Pollock viewed nickel coins as temporary expedients that would eventually be replaced in turn with silver coins once gold and silver traded at par again with paper money. For this reason, a silver half dime remained in production for a time alongside the copper nickel coins.
Simplicity and function defines the reverse design of this 1866 copper-nickel 5-cent coin. The design remained in production for 21 years, from 1866 to mid-1883, when the next design’s reverse tripped over itself in an attempt to more elegantly understate the denomination.
As the Civil War wound down, the government sought to replace the fragile paper fractional notes with coins. With silver still not circulating, the Mint turned to nickel coins to replace the silver half dime in 1866. Though not particularly beautiful, the Shield 5-cent piece was produced for 21 years.
nickel wasn’t worth a nickel.
decade before the U.S. Mint started striking nickel 5-cent pieces, the Mint
struck nickel cents.
When the Mint
discontinued the prohibitively costly copper large cents in 1857, it replaced
them with smaller coins (the same diameter as today’s cents, but thicker) that
were white in color, superficially resembling silver.
Flying Eagle cents, which were 88 percent copper and 12 percent nickel, were
immediately and immensely popular. In his Complete
Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, researcher Walter Breen said the
new small cents were commonly called nickels or nicks.
but disappeared from circulation at the outset of the Civil War, replaced by
fractional currency — notes in denominations from 3 cents to 50 cents. As the
war wound down, the government sought to replace the shinplasters with coins.
With silver still not circulating, the Mint turned to nickel coins to replace
the tiny 3-cent silver piece in 1865 and the silver half dime in 1866.
(Curiously, the Mint also produced silver versions of the coins for a few years
after the introduction of the nickel coins. Mint Director James Pollock viewed
nickel coins as temporary expedients that would eventually be replaced in turn
with silver coins once gold and silver traded at par again with paper money.)
after noticing that the public readily accepted small sized copper Civil War
tokens in commerce, the Mint switched from copper-nickel cents to copper coins.
The 3-cent piece, which never enjoyed great popularity, was last struck in any
quantity in 1881, leaving the 5-cent piece as the last nickel coin — the nickel
The 1866 5-cent
pieces were struck on 75 percent copper-25 percent nickel planchets, the same
composition as today’s 5-cent coins.
nickel nickels were graceless affairs, showing a shield on the obverse and a
large 5 on the reverse. But the Shield 5-cent piece was produced for 21 years,
replaced in mid-1883 with the fatally flawed Liberty Head or “V” 5-cent piece.
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