Miss Liberty showed up again on the US five cent
coin in 1883. The Shield Nickel, in production since 1866, was viewed
as rather plain, and
had few defenders when talks began to replace it with something more
Mint Engraver Charles Barber's design consisted of Liberty on the
obverse, surrounded by 13 stars.
The reverse was dominated by the Roman numeral V within a wreath. The
new Liberty Nickel, also called the "V"
Nickel, was released into circulation in February, 1883.
Very soon thereafter, the Mint realized a
serious omission on the new
"V" nickel design had occurred. No where on the coin did the word
"CENTS" appear. This oversight gave
swindlers the idea of gold-plating the coins, and passing them off as
$5 gold coins!
Since the Liberty Nickel was new, many victims were
taken in. The word "CENTS" was quickly added to the reverse, creating
two major varieties of the Liberty Nickel in 1883. These gold-plated
"V" nickels came to be known as "Racketeer Nickels" and carry a slight
premium due to their connection to one of the strangest events in
The most infamous distributor of the Racketeer
Nickel was a Boston man named Josh Tatum. He linked up with a friend
who gold electroplated thousands of the new “V” nickels. Tatum
successfully passed many of these off as five-dollar gold coins, buying
small items to receive at least four real dollars in change.
While This Coin Was Minted...
The Brooklyn Bridge was opened on May 24, 1883. At top is how
the bridge looked in its early days. The bottom photo was taken in
recent years. The bridge itself looks much the same, but the New York
City skyline has changed dramatically. On its first day, 1800 vehicles
crossed the bridge, at a cost of five cents each. No doubt many people
paid the toll with a shiny new 1883 Liberty Nickel.
Public domain images.
Eventually, the law caught up with Tatum.
He was put on trial,
but was found not guilty on the major charges. It seems he never told
merchants the gold-plated coin was worth five dollars, nor did he ask
for any change; he simply presented the coin and happily accepted the
money offered in return. The court accepted Tatum’s argument that he
did not speak falsely of the coin, for as a deaf mute, he couldn’t
An unproven tale has been handed down from the case of Josh Tatum and
the Racketeer Nickel. Some generations ago, the slang term “joshing”
became a popular synonym for the word "kidding", supposedly attributed
to Josh Tatum. The next time someone laughs and says “I’m only joshing
you”, the image of a speechless man presenting a fake five dollar coin
in an 1883 general store ought to come to mind!
Regular production for the Liberty Nickel ended in 1912. In 1913, a
total of five Liberty nickels were minted, under somewhat suspicious
circumstances. Today, this coin ranks among the most legendary of
all in American numismatics. On rare occasions, when a 1913 Liberty
Nickel changes ownership, the coin commands millions of dollars.
When a PF-66 example sold in April 2007, the $5 million price tag
created headlines across the general news media. Don't look for a
genuine specimen to show up anytime soon on a routine eBay coin
There are a three key date Liberty Nickel coins worth collecting that
will likely appear somewhere under the "Buy Coins on eBay" banner. They
Key date Liberty Head "V" Nickels are offered
for sale below through US coin eBay auctions. The left hand side
of each "Sales Box" is value trend data over a very long period of time
for a coin of that date in VG-8 condition. The percent annual
increase is computed for comparative purposes. The coin
pictured for sale in the right hand side, if any, is not necessarily
the same condition coin as that represented in the value trend analysis
on left hand side.
|% Annual Increase
|% Annual Increase
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