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How to Assemble a Liberty Head "V" Nickel Collection

The Liberty Nickel series makes a challenging, yet very doable, series to complete. The Liberty Nickel, commonly known as the “V” nickel for the Roman Numeral "V" on the reverse was officially produced from 1883 to 1912.

Before you embark on your mission of completing a set of this series, you must first decide what type of collection you want to assemble and what your budget will be. For example, a complete collection of all coins from 1883 to 1912 (33 coins) retails for around $1000.00 in G4 condition. Up the condition to XF-40 and expect to pay over $4500. Up the collection to MS60 and the retail price is nearly $8,500. If you just want the best quality, then look for MS65 which would retail for $62,000. That is quite a range. While it is unlikely that your set will contain each coin in the exact same grade, this does give you an example of how much increasing the quality can cost. In the XF-40 range, 4 or 5 of the coins will set you back $100 while the majority of the coins can be had for under $30.00. If budget is an issue, you could collect the majority of the more common coins in a higher grade and acquire the keys in a lower grade and then upgrade as your budget allows.

You could also attempt to put together a collection of just proof coins. This set would consist of 31 coins and would retail for about $20,000 in MS65 condition. Collecting proofs in the Liberty Nickel series can be tough yet rewarding. Proofs were minted for every year of existence for the “V” nickel. Proofs in PR65 condition can run in the $500 plus range for most years with the 1885 running upwards of $1500. Production usually numbered in the thousands for each year, which was an unusually high number for the period.

For this article, we will assume you have a tight budget and like most collectors you will need to sacrifice quality for the pricier coins. So, how do you get started? The easiest and fastest way is to start with the common dates. This can give you some instant satisfaction that you are on your way. Within the Liberty Nickel series, the dates from 1897 to 1912-D can be had for around $2.00 or less in G4 but will cost $30.00 a piece in the XF-40 range. If you are after the low cost coins simply buying a roll of nickels will most likely yield all but a few dates from 1897 to 1912-D thus lowering your price per coin with a few left over. You can also find deals such as “Starter Sets” that will include a certain number of different coins. These will commonly be in AG-3 to VG-8 grades. Beyond this, it is unlikely you will find “unsearched hoards” so you will need to buy coins outside of this range individually.

In order to complete the series, three coins may give you trouble. The 1885, 1886 and 1912 S are the lowest mintage. The 1885 had a mintage of over 1.5 million but will still set you back at least $500 in a grade around G4. The 1886 had a mintage of 3.3 million and will cost around $250 in a G4 grade. The 1912-S specimen had the lowest mintage by far of just 238,000. As this was the first Liberty Nickel from San Francisco, as well as the last of the series, it was probably saved a little bit more than the older issues as it may have been recognized for its low mintage. Even with a mintage of just 1/6 of the most expensive 1885 piece, the 1912-S can be had for around $150 around a G4 grade.

Finding these tougher dates may prove to be somewhat challenging depending where you look. Surprisingly, there are very few dealers advertising “Liberty Nickels” in national publications such as Coins Magazine. Those that I did find were asking above retail for 1885 and 1886 type coins. A quick search on the internet did yield several dealers that had the scarcest dates in stock. Yet again, they were asking above retail for the scarcest dates. I suspect if I walked into my local coin dealer, s/he would also be asking above retail for the 1885 and 1886 issue. So what does that leave you? If you are a gambler, there is always eBay. A quick search of eBay yield several 1885 specimens to choose from. Please see my article on eBay buying tips if you are an eBay novice to prevent getting ripped off. While the coins on eBay are typically overgraded, you can still get what you want if you are careful.

Collecting Liberty “V” Nickels can be a truly rewarding experience. In just a few short years, every coin in this series will be at least 100 years old bring extra pleasure to the collector knowing that s/he has something that is a small part of history of the United States of America. Happy Collecting!

Keith Scott has been a collector for over 30 years. His website has US coins for sale. He also writes Coin Collecting Articles for fun. Visit his websites for a history of US coins, metal market updates and news about your favorite coins.

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