By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for PCGS ……
The Liberty Nickel series is one of the more widely pursued 19th-century series. This is perhaps owing to the fact that the type does not harbor numerous pricey key dates, notwithstanding the 1913 Proof Liberty Nickel – a multimillion-dollar rarity that numismatists believe was not an official United States Mint strike. While most Liberty Nickel collectors never even dream of – let alone actually go after – the 1913 trophy rarity, there are some scarce dates they can’t avoid if they want to achieve a complete date-and-mintmark set.
Perhaps the toughest of these dates is the 1885 Liberty Nickel, long regarded as the series key.
The Philadelphia Mint struck only 1,473,300 examples of the 1885 Nickel, making it far scarcer than most other dates in a series where mintages above 10 million were the norm. And while the 1885 is not the lowest-mintage business strike (that honor goes to the 1912-S), it is by far the most elusive and certainly the most expensive across the board. This is largely due to relatively few examples being saved in the months and years immediately following the coin’s issuance; this is not surprising, given that relatively few people were collecting contemporary United States coins in the mid-1880s.
PCGS estimates there are just 5,000 surviving examples of the 1885 Liberty Nickel across all grades, offering a slim number for the many collectors who are actively vying to complete a set of Liberty Nickels. The low survival estimates help explain the elevated pricing for this coin, which starts in the mid-three figures and ascends rapidly from there as this highly popular key date climbs the grading scale.
In a grade of G4, prices begin at $375 USD–which, by the way, is nearly double the still-staggering price of $200 for an example in PO01, a grade more appealing to low-ball collectors. Those wanting a nicely circulated example in F12 will have to pony up some $800. Predictably, prices cross the flour-figure threshold in the lightly circulated territory of XF40, where one would need to lay out $1,500 for the opportunity to claim such an example.
Collectors wanting a Mint State specimen will be hard pressed to spend less than $5,000, though some examples in the MS61 to MS63 range can be had for a little south of that lofty figure. The Mint State grade point with the most numerous representatives for the date is MS64, and prices for such specimens reach $6,500. From there, the 1885 becomes only more strenuous on the pocketbook, with MS65 examples in PCGS holders numbering only a few dozen and selling for $8,000 a pop. The date becomes notably rarer in MS66, with only around 40 extant specimens each selling for $12,500. The finest grade for this date is MS67, with fewer than a dozen specimens and prices approaching $40,000. The all-time price record for the 1885 Liberty Nickel is $74,750, paid in 2006 for a PCGS-encapsulated specimen graded MS67.
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