I recently came across this gold-plated Liberty Head 5-cent piece
in my collection and I’m wondering if this is a real coin?
First a little history about this coin. The Liberty Head 5-cent
series was produced for circulation from 1883 to 1912.
For the first few months of production in 1883, the reverse
depicted only the Roman numeral V on the reverse to represent the
coin’s denomination of 5 cents. This was the only 5-cent piece issued
from 1829 to date — of both silver half dimes and copper-nickel 5-cent
coins — that doesn’t spell out or use Arabic numerals for the
denomination. That creative decision soon became a source of trouble.
The 1883 Liberty Head 5-cent piece that employed only a Roman
numeral V to represent the denomination created opportunities for
those who sought to take advantage of the public’s unfamiliarity with
the new design. (It replaced the Shield 5-cent coin, which bore the
legend 5 CENTS.)
The profile Charles Barber used on the Liberty Head 5-cent piece
somewhat resembles the Liberty profile on the contemporary Coronet
gold $5 half eagle, and in absence of the familiar 5 CENTS
inscription, opportunistic con artists found a way to pass these coins
as $5 half eagles.
They gold-plated 1883 Liberty Head 5-cent coins, even engraving
reeding on the edges of some (the copper-nickel 5-cent pieces have a
plain edge). These unscrupulous individuals then passed the modified
5-cent coins as gold $5 half eagle coins to merchants and other
consumers. The altered pieces quickly became known as “racketeer nickels.”
In response to the problem, Barber modified his design, adding the
word CENTS to the bottom of the coin’s reverse. After more than 5.4
million 1883 Liberty Head, No CENTS 5-cent coins were produced, later
in 1883 more than 16 million of the With CENTS pieces were struck.
These later issues, however, were not saved to the same extent as the
No CENTS issues, so the values for the second subtype are higher than
the first subtype.
Most racketeer nickels sold today are likely alterations. It is
not possible to say with 100 percent certainty if you have an original
racketeer nickel or a more recently produced version of one.
Some little details hint at what your coin might be, though. The
edges of the coin you have are not reeded, and the gold coating
appears solid overall.
Originals sometimes show wear in the gold coating, possibly
indicating that they circulated.
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