US Coins

Making a 5-cent debut

The copper-nickel 5-cent piece was new in 1866. Proofs could be ordered from the Mint for 10 cents each. Today, gem Proof examples are worth several thousand dollars each.

Images courtesy of American Numismatic Rarities.

One of my favorite pursuits is reading through old issues of the American Journal of Numismatics, The Numismatist and the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine. The AJN, as American Journal of Numismatics is nicknamed, made its debut in May 1866 as the official journal of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society. The group was the revival of the American Numismatic Society, which was founded in March 1858 and enjoyed a couple of years of activity and then went into suspended animation. It was resuscitated in 1864 with “and Archaeological” added, apparently in an effort to broaden the group’s appeal. (In 1908 it went back to the old name.)

I dearly love my bound set of the AJN. The other day I took Vol. 1 and 2, bound in a single book, from the library and spent several hours with it. In seeking more information on an old citation I tapped into the Internet — to find that the AJN is digitized and available for free (
). This is a marvelous asset for our hobby, and I strongly urge you to check it out. Start by browsing through the first issue. Unless I miss my guess, within a couple hours you will become a lover of numismatic history!

Issue No. 3, July 1866, included this news item:

“THE NEW FIVE CENT PIECES. This new coin will soon be in circulation. It is of pure nickel, approaching very nearly the appearance of silver, and is a very neat coin. It is a trifle larger than the nickel cents. On one side it has for a centre relief the ordinary shield crowned with a laurel wreath, which hangs gracefully over the sides; this is surmounted by the motto, ‘In God we trust,’ and at the base the date, 1866. On the reverse is the denomination — a figure 5 in the centre of a circle of stars; over the figure are the words ‘United States,’ and under it the word ‘cents.’ ”

Soon afterward the AJN reported that Proofs of the new coin could be obtained from the Mint for 10 cents each. Not long afterward the Shield 5-cent coin became the subject of several articles, all of which took the Mint to task for not creating a better design.

The journal’s first feature story about a coin associated with the American series treated the Bermuda coinage of the 17th century. Civil War tokens, called “copperheads” at the time, were front row center in terms of editorial coverage in the first several issues. One item covered what may be the first portable coin album — a wooden panel with openings sandwiched between two sheets of glass.

Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached at his private email,, or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

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