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1912-S Liberty Head Nickel : A Collector’s Guide

1912-S Liberty Head Nickel. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1912-S Liberty Head Nickel. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

With only 238,000 pieces struck, the 1912-S Liberty Head nickel is the lowest circulation mintage of the entire Liberty Head nickel series. This mintage is also lower than any circulation strike Buffalo nickel or Jefferson nickel. In fact, it is the fourth-lowest mintage for all circulating nickels save the 1879, 1880, and 1881 Shield nickels.

Adding to its importance in the series, the 1912-S was the first nickel ever produced at the San Francisco Mint. And together with its Denver counterpart (1912-D), it was the first nickel ever struck at a branch mint facility other than Philadelphia. Coinage for the 1912-S nickel began on December 24 of that year.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

Surprisingly with such a low mintage, the 1912-S is not considered a key date. It is, however, a popular coin and does command a premium in the marketplace.

This particular issue was the subject of great controversy between the two major grading services after then-NGC Chairman Mark Salzberg published a letter on NGC’s website, titled: “Salzberg Advises: Research PCGS Populations and Prices”.

Salzberg pointed to the precipitous rise of coin populations at the upper end of the PCGS census. From the founding of the company in 1986 through 2012, PCGS reported a population of eight 1912-S nickels at the MS-66 level. But from 2012 to 2017, the PCGS population for the 1912-S in MS-66 had increased to almost 50. In February 2024, the pop is 50 in MS-66 and nine in MS-66+.

Then-PCGS President Don Willis responded to Salzberg’s claim, citing PCGS’ popularity:

“We set the standard for third party grading 30 years ago. Every other grading service has attempted to copy that standard and has been playing a game of catch up for all those years.”

He also noted that populations do rise because of the service’s popularity. In regards to the 1912-S specifically, Willis claimed that population increases were due to the recent discovery of several original rolls that yielded a number of high-quality coins (PCGS MS-66+, pop 8, 8/2020; PCGS MS-66+, pop 9, 2/2024).

  • PCGS MS-66 #34011253: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, December 16, 2021, Lot 47 – $4,935.

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Liberty faces left, her hair swept back and tied in a bun, with a few stray curls dropping down the back of the neck. She wears a coronet inscribed with LIBERTY, with wheat and cotton clustered at its base. A circle of 13 six-point stars is placed inside the denticled rim, and the date is at the bottom.


A prominent V is located in the center of the reverse, surrounded by a small circle of two arcs of cotton and corn, tied at the bottom with a ribbon and separated at the top. Inside the denticled rim is a concentric circle of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around the top and sides, CENTS at the bottom, and two interpuncts, one centered on each side of CENTS. Above the wreath is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. On the With Cents type, the motto has been moved from its more prominent position below the wreath.

The S mint mark for the San Francisco Mint is placed in the small space below the dot that is to the left of CENTS.


The edge of the 1912-S Liberty Head nickel is plain or smooth, without reeding or edge lettering.


Charles Edward Barber was born in Londonin 1840. He was the son of William Barber, the fifth Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, under whom he worked as an assistant engraver. Upon his father’s death in 1879, Charles Barber became the Mint’s sixth chief engraver. The coins he designed during his tenure are collectively known as “Barber coinage” and include the dime, the quarter, and the half dollar. His Liberty Head “V” nickel is also well-known, as is his supposed feud with engraver George T. Morgan.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1912
Denomination: Five Cents (USD)
Mint Mark: S (San Francisco)
Mintage: 238,000
Alloy: 75% Copper, 25% Nickel
Weight: 5.0 g
Diameter: 21.2 mm
Edge Plain (Smooth)
OBV Designer Charles E. Barber
REV Designer Charles E. Barber
Quality: Business Strike


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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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