1885 Liberty Nickel

In 1883, the Liberty nickel was issued for the first time. Perhaps as an oversight or error in judgment, the word CENTS was omitted. The only face value indicator was the Roman numeral "V" on the reverse.(1)

Racketeers seized on this opportunity to gold plate “V” five-cent nickels and pass them off as a new type of $5 gold half eagle. Soon thereafter, still in 1883, “FIVE CENTS” was added to the design to remove any confusion over the face value.

Large numbers of the 1883 Liberty nickel (of both with or without CENTS varieties) were set aside because people incorrectly thought they would someday be rare and valuable, which explains the humble price of the 1883 today.(2)

Circumstances were much different in 1885, as the American economy was in turmoil. Demand for additional new nickels from the Mint was down dramatically. Woefully, problems with the Mint’s planchet supplier also limited capacity.(3)(4)

Amid a “Perfect Storm,” mintage of the 1885 Liberty nickel amounted to less than 1.5 million pieces. Other than the 1912-S, this was the lowest output of the entire Liberty nickel series of 1883-1913 (we're not considering the 1913 Liberty nickel... only five of them are known, and these were probably struck “under-the table.”(5))

Collectors of the time preferred Proof examples for their sets and had little interest when the small mintage of 1885 nickels was released.(6) Nearly their full complement was distributed into the fabric of the nation without fanfare, where approximately 99.7% were eventually claimed by attrition.(7)

With the advent of coin boards in the 1930s, interest in plucking coins out of circulation grew in popularity. The rarity of the 1885 nickel came into focus sharply, as few collectors could find examples to fill their board slots.(8)

Finally attracting deserved respect, the business-strike 1885 Liberty nickel increased remarkably in value for decades. However, since 1990, its performance has been sluggish, a situation that should draw notice from “sleeper” sleuths.

Because of its wide admiration as one of the few true key dates in the Liberty nickel series and legitimate scarcity, the 1885 Liberty nickel will forever bear the mark of a Classic Rarity in United States numismatics.

Estimated survivors in all grades: 5000
? The survivor estimate from PCGS represents an average of one or more experts' opinions as to how many examples survive of a particular coin in all grades. Survival estimates include coins that are raw, certified by PCGS, and certified by other grading services.
Learn more at PCGS.
PCGS Rarity Scale: 4.0
? The 'PCGS CoinFacts Rarity Scale' assesses the relative rarity of all U.S. coins, based on estimated surviving examples. The scale runs from 1.0 to 10.0. The higher the number, the rarer the coin.
Learn more at PCGS.
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1. PCGS.  Type 2, With "CENTS".

2. Heritage Auctions.  1885 5C.  Jan 2008 Auction.

3. Stack's Bowers Galleries.  1885 Liberty Nickel.  Nov 2015 Auction.

4. NGC.  1885 5C MS.

5. PCGS.  Type 2, With "CENTS".

6. Stack's Bowers Galleries.  1885 Liberty Head Nickel.  Nov 2019 Auction.

7. PCGS.  1885 5C (Regular Strike).

8. Stack's Bowers Galleries.  1885 Liberty Nickel.  Nov 2015 Auction.

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Coin images by Stack's Bowers Galleries.