While not necessarily a well-known year in American history, 1886 saw a series of interesting and important historical events: the dedication of the Statue of Liberty by President Grover Cleveland, the introduction of Coca-Cola by John Pemberton, and the Chicago Haymarket Affair, which forced the implementation of the eight-hour workday.
Even at the United States Mint, history was unfolding, and there was a continuing suspension of the production of five-cent coins. What started in March of 1885 as a result of the Depression of 1882–1885, this suspension of production would remain in effect until September 1886 when the demand for small change increased to sufficient levels.
When not including the unofficial mintage of the elusive 1913 type, the 1886 is the third-rarest date in this series, falling slightly behind the 1885 and the 1912-S. This coin is rare in high grades for several reasons: a dearth of examples saved from circulation, a small original mintage, and a generally weak strike. The weakness can be seen on the lower left-hand portion of the wreath in the reverse design and the 13 obverse stars. Relatively few Mint State examples were pulled from circulation by collectors at that time because of the bad economic conditions that had been underway for over three years. As a result, most coins had at least some circulation wear by the time numismatists began collecting the 1886 nickel.
The 1886 Nickel in Today’s Market
As one of the key date types in the series, the 1886 Liberty Head Nickel is extremely rare in high grades, and both NGC and PCGS record the highest known grade as an MS 67. Collectively, both companies state that there are four examples in this grade. While the overall auction record, and the record for this grade, was set at $64,625 USD during the Legend Rare Coin Auctions September 2018 sale, the most recent sale in 2020 stands at $27,600.
Even though the top population grade has experienced a price decrease, the other mid–to–high Mint State grades (MS 63 to MS 66) have remained relatively stable. In MS 66, prices fluctuate in the high six to low seven thousand range and in MS 65, prices are steady at $3,500 to $4,500. Coins graded at MS 64 are worth between $2,000 and $2,500, with the occasional auction price reaching $3,000. Meanwhile, certified examples in MS 63 sell regularly for $1,500 to $1,800.
While quite rare in the higher Mint State grades, because the 1886 nickel had a relatively low mintage of 3,326,000, it is also uncommon in lower grades. In About Uncirculated grades (AU 50 to 58), prices range from $600 to $1,000, with every step up in grade seeing a price increase of approximately $100. In lower grades, there is less variation in price between each grade, with VF 20 worth between $350 and $400 while EF 45 sells for between $475 to $525. Even in extremely low grades (F2 to G6), this date is still worth $75 to $200.
The Liberty Head nickel was designed by Charles E. Barber, who is the namesake behind the Barber (officially “Liberty Head”) dime, quarter and half dollar; some hobbyists have similarly dubbed the Liberty Head nickel as the “Barber” nickel, though this has not been common practice. The Liberty Head nickel features a leftward-facing bust of Miss Liberty, whose hair is tied into a bun behind her head. She is crowned with a tiara bearing the inscription “LIBERTY.”
13 stars, representing the 13 original states of the Union, mostly encircle the bust along the obverse rim. At the bottom center of the obverse is the coin’s date (1886).
While the Liberty Head nickel may only infrequently be identified as the “Barber” nickel by hobbyists, the coins do have one widely popular nickname: the “V” nickel. The “V” refers to the large Roman numeral “V” that anchors the reverse design and indicates the coin’s denomination of five cents. The “V” sits within a wreath of cotton, corn, wheat, and tobacco – important crops representative of different parts of the country. Centered under the wreath is the inscription CENTS, which was added to the design in late 1883 to ensure that the coin could not be plated gold and misrepresented as a five-dollar gold piece.
On either side of the word CENTS is a single dot, which divides the denomination inscription from the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which wraps around the top three-quarters of the reverse along the rim. Near the top center of the coin, under the words STATES OF, is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. Translated from Latin to English, E PLURIBUS UNUM means “Out of Many, One”. Since the coin was struck in Philadelphia, there is no mintmark.
The edge of the 1886 Liberty Head nickel cent is smooth, without inscription.
Charles Edward Barber was born in London in 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 “V” nickel is also well-known, as is his supposed feud with engraver George T. Morgan.
|Year Of Issue:||1886|
|Mint Mark:||None (Philadelphia)|
|Alloy:||75% Copper, 25% Nickel|
|OBV Designer||Charles E. Barber|
|REV Designer||Charles E. Barber|