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U.S. Coin Patterns for Less Than $5,000 Each, Part 4: 1866-71 5¢ Nickels

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #362

A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds …..
This is the fourth column in a series on collecting U.S. patterns without spending as much as $5,000 on any one piece. Patterns of interesting, alternative designs for five cent nickels may be effectively collected. Although patterns are not coins, they enhance coin collections and contribute to knowledge of coin collecting.

People who collect five cent nickels may further enjoy collecting and build more interesting collections by including a few patterns in their holdings. Of course, some people collect just patterns, which are fascinating.

Regular issue Shield nickels, which are five cent coins, were minted from 1866 to 1883. Starting in 1794 and ending in 1873 (though not during every year along the way), five cent silver coins–half dimes–were coined.

Five cent nickels were a new concept, not seriously considered until the 1860s. Before 1865, it was generally assumed or at least seriously thought that five cent coins must contain silver. U.S. nickel coins consist of an alloy that is 25% nickel and 75% copper.

Even before a landmark coinage act was passed in 1873, those involved came to realize that the five cent nickel denomination was not a short-term project; the U.S. Treasury Department was committed to producing nickels over the long run. It also became clear around that time that the Shield nickel design would not be replaced for a while. Five cent nickel patterns produced from 1866 until 1871 are indicative of an era, the beginning of this denomination and the artistic concepts that were considered though never adopted for regular coinage.

Alternate designs and alloys were then considered. I am here ignoring die trials and other patterns that were struck with the same Shield nickel obverse design that was adopted in 1866. Patterns of the same design as, or almost like, the contemporary regular issues are a topic distinct from pieces depicting alternate designs. While Shield nickels in copper with regular dies, or nickel patterns that are only slightly different from regular Shield nickels, may wonderfully complement sets of Shield nickels, these are less exciting than patterns featuring alternate designs of five cent nickels.

Of course, die trials and other off-metal strikings are important and interesting. Such pieces have been and will be mentioned in other discussions.

The topic of the first part in this series was one cent patterns. Two Cent piece patterns were discussed in the second part. Three Cent Nickel patterns, and also Three Cent Silver patterns were covered in the third part. And yes, there were Three Cent Nickels before there were U.S. five cent nickels.

Design Types of Nickels

Three Cent Nickels were first minted for circulation in 1865. Five cent nickels were not coined for circulation until 1866. Shield nickels with rays on the reverse (back) were minted in 1866 and 1867. From 1867 to 1883, Shield nickels without such rays were produced, the ‘No Rays’ type.

In 1883, Liberty Head nickels were introduced. At first, these did not include the word ‘cents’ in the design. Later in 1883, the word ‘cents’ was added to the reverse design; the obverse was not changed. Liberty Head nickels were minted for commerce until 1912. Five Proof 1913 Liberty Head nickels exist, though the circumstances of their minting are, for now, unknown.

Buffalo nickels were first minted in 1913. Later that year, the reverse design was notably modified. Buffalo Nickels were last minted in 1938, the same year that Jefferson nickels were first minted. Jefferson nickels were of the same design until 2003.

Although all five cent nickels minted from 2004 to the present have continued to feature Thomas Jefferson, various designs have been employed. Modern Jefferson nickels are beside the present theme of 19th-century five cent nickel patterns. During all these years of Jefferson nickels, did anyone wonder why there never were Washington nickels?

Washington Nickels!

In 1866, many five cent nickel patterns were made that feature a bust of George Washington. Obverse varieties may be distinguished from each other by the words in the obverse legend. I use abbreviations to distinguish these design sub-types: United States of America (USA), In God We Trust (IGWT), and God And Our Country (GAOC).

The reverse designs that were paired with Washington obverse designs are not easy to explain. Some of the same reverse dies were also paired with other alternate obverse designs.

One of these reverse designs distinguishes itself with ‘In God We Trust’ (IGWT) as a motto above a wreath. The adopted Shield nickel reverse design features stars and does not include a wreath.

Another alternate reverse design has a fancy numeral five, which is called “Dutch 5” and ‘Reverse B’ in the Judd reference book (Atlanta: Whitman, 10th ed., 2009, pp. 105-108). I categorize these reverse designs as: ‘Fancy 5’ (Judd book – Reverse B), ‘Cents in Wreath’ (Judd-A), ‘Large 5’ (Judd-C), ‘Small 5’ (Judd-D).

Dies for regular Shield nickel ‘No Rays’ and ‘With Rays’ reverse designs were also paired with Washington obverse dies. In pairings with other obverse designs, reverse designs featuring the Roman numeral five (‘V’) were employed as well: ‘V in Wreath’, ‘V in Wreath with Cents’ and ‘V in Wreath with Cross‘.

All types of Washington nickel patterns were struck in ‘nickel’ (presumably the standard 25% nickel, 75% copper alloy), with perhaps one exception. Most were struck in copper, too. A few were struck in bronze, which is typically defined at the Philadelphia Mint as an alloy that is 95% copper with the balance being tin and/or zinc.

Collectors generally do not seek all varieties of Washington nickels. One or two are sufficient for most interested collectors. It would be almost impossible to assemble a set that is even 80% set complete, anyway. Several Washington nickel patterns are unique or nearly so.

On January 24, 2016, the firm GreatCollections sold a PCGS-certified Proof-55 USA obverse/‘Cents in Wreath’ reverse, Washington nickel for $1,085.70. An NGC-certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ and CAC-approved piece was auctioned by Stack’s-Bowers in February 2014 in New York, for $2,467.50.

Eric Newman had a USA/‘Cents in Wreath’ Washington nickel pattern. His was NGC-certified as ‘Proof-65’ and CAC-approved. In November 2014, this Newman pattern realized $2,585. In May 2013, the exact same pattern in the same holder sold in an Internet-only sale for $3,407.50. About a month earlier, in April 2013, this piece was auctioned at the Central States Convention for $3,290. So, collectors had three chances to buy Newman’s Washington nickel, presumably for less than $4,000.

On August 3, 2012, Heritage auctioned a USA/‘Cents in Wreath’ Washington nickel in copper. It was NGC-certified as ‘Proof-64-Brown’ and realized $3,525.

An IGWT Washington obverse/‘Large 5’ reverse piece was auctioned in August at the ANA Convention in Anaheim, by Stack’s-Bowers. It was PCGS-certified as ‘Proof-64 Red & Brown’ and went for $4,700. This is a representative of the IGWT/ ‘Large 5’ subtype in bronze (Judd-469), which is not as rare as this IGWT/‘Large 5’ Washington design in 100% copper.

The IGWT/‘Small 5’ Washington pattern in nickel is not particularly rare and is relatively affordable. In June 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-certified ‘Proof-64’ (J-470) piece for $2,875.

In November 2014, Heritage auctioned a pattern of the same (Judd-470) variety for $2,232.50. It was NGC-certified as ‘Proof-65 Cameo.’ Back in 2011, a PCGS-certified Proof-53 J-470 IGWT/‘Small 5’ Washington pattern brought $1,610.

The IGWT/Rays (J-473) pattern in nickel is popular with collectors. The Washington obverse is matched with the regular ‘With Rays’ Shield nickel reverse. In January 2015, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-64 piece, with a CAC sticker, for $3,818.75. On October 9, 2014, a PCGS-certified Proof-64 piece brought $2,585.

Elaborate Headdress Indian

The 1867 five cent nickel patterns with an elaborate headdress Indian are distinctive. This obverse design is much different from that of Indian cents, Buffalo nickels, 20th-century quarter eagles or Three Dollar Gold pieces. Those struck in aluminum are among the least rare of nickel patterns and are less costly than most patterns in general that were struck in aluminum. At times, the use of aluminum in U.S. coins was seriously considered.

On October 4, 2016, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-64 (Judd-561) piece for $3,172.50. It had been encapsulated by PCGS before 1991.

On April 29, 2016, Heritage auctioned two others of this same variety. A PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ (J-561) pattern, with a CAC sticker, brought $4,700. A PCGS-certified ‘Proof-63’ piece went for $2,232.50. Back in November 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-certified ‘Proof-64 Cameo’ (Judd-561) piece for $3,220.

In the context of classic U.S. coins and relevant patterns, the market levels for Elaborate Headdress Indian nickels are not high. The design of these is unlike any regular issue U.S. coin, and is entertaining. Aluminum pieces are distinct, too.

Braided Hair, ‘Cents in Wreath’

The ‘Braided Hair’ obverse design is virtually the same as that employed on regular issue Three Cent Nickels. It certainly seems plausible that similar five cent nickels were considered. It is relevant that multiple denominations of Liberty Seated silver coins have very similar obverse designs. Braided Hair half cents and large cents are very similar, too.

The Braided Hair obverse/‘Cents in Wreath’ reverse five cent nickel patterns are among the best values of all. These are really neat, are very much understandable and are among the least costly of all five cent nickel patterns.

In August 2016, at the ANA Convention, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-66’ and CAC-approved 1867 Braided Hair/‘Cents in Wreath’ (Judd-566) five cent nickel pattern for $2,585. In June 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-certified ‘Proof-64’ piece for $1,495. These two were struck in a nickel alloy, presumably 25% nickel and 75% copper in content.

The 100% copper counterpart (J-567) is a little rarer than the just mentioned 1867 Braided Hair/‘Cents in Wreath’ pattern in nickel. Both Heritage and Stack’s-Bowers have auctioned sub-64 grade (J-567) pieces for less than $1,500 each during the last 10 years, though not recently. A 65 grade (J-567) piece might cost more than $5,000 in the present.

Additional 1867 Braided Hair/ ‘Cents in Wreath’ five cent nickel patterns are die varieties of the same general design. Those that are collectible (Judd-570-71) are slightly different in that a star is in Miss Liberty’s headdress and the layout of the word ‘cents’ on the reverse is not straight.

Over the last five years, Stack’s-Bowers has auctioned several 1867 ‘Braided Hair’/‘Cents in Wreath’ nickel patterns, of different varieties. The nickel alloy pieces with the star in the headdress are relatively inexpensive.

During March 2015 in Baltimore, an NGC-certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ piece went for $1,762.50. In June 2013, also in Baltimore, a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64,’ and CAC-approved piece brought $1,880. This Judd-570 piece was earlier in the epic collection of Harry Bass and was auctioned by Bowers & Merena in May 1999 in New York. I was there. According to the PCGS web site, this same piece then realized $1,610.

In 1868, there were five cent nickel patterns that were struck with broad rims, which are even broader on the varieties on unusually large planchets (prepared blanks). These are otherwise extremely similar to the just discussed 1867 ‘Braided Hair’ five cent nickel patterns. The rims are very distinctive. Broad Rim nickels are among the most affordable of all five cent nickel patterns.

In March 2013 in Baltimore, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ Braided Hair – Broad Rim (J-623) nickel, with a CAC sticker, for $2,232.50. Another PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65 Cameo’ with a CAC sticker, though struck on a larger planchet (J-624), brought $2,585 in February 2015 in New York.

On January 8, 2016, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-66, and CAC-approved, large planchet, Braided Hair – Broad Rim (J-624) nickel for $3,290. More recently, on October 4, a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64’ piece of this variety for $1,821.25.

Large planchet, Braided Hair – Broad Rim (J-627) five cent nickel patterns in copper are sometimes available for less than $5,000 each. In June 2016 at a Long Beach Expo, a PCGS-certified Proof-64 (J-627) piece, with a full red (“RD”) designation, realized $3,760.

The 1871 ‘Braided Hair’/‘Cents in Wreath’ patterns (Judd-1053-55) with a reverse design like those just mentioned can be collected without spending anywhere near $5,000 on each one. In June 2013, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-65 nickel, with a CAC sticker, for $3,055. In August 2011, a PCGS-certified Proof-64 (J-1053) nickel pattern brought $2,070.

An 1871 ‘Braided Hair’/‘Cents in Wreath’ (J-1054) pattern in copper usually appears for sale every year or so. On June 5, 2015, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-64 Red & Brown’ for $2,350. A different (J-1054) piece with the same PCGS grade and designation went for $1,762.50 in 2013.

Braided Hair obverse, V-reverse

On more than a few pattern varieties, the Braided Hair obverse design is paired with a reverse design that features the Roman numeral five (“V”). These foreshadow the reverse designs of Liberty Head nickels, which were formally issued during the middle of 1883. It makes sense to seek two or three varieties of Braided Hair/‘V’ five cent nickel patterns, as a sizable collection of these would not be a practical objective for budget-minded collectors.

In my entire life, I have met three people who were interested in acquiring all five cent nickel pattern varieties, if it had been possible to do so. Some of the expensive varieties are, however, not very different in appearance from modestly priced varieties.

The 1868 variety (Judd-633) in nickel with a star in the headdress and a medium size ‘V’ within a wreath is one of the least rare of 19th-century patterns. In June 2013 in California, the Goldbergs auctioned an NGC-certified ‘Proof-66 Cameo’ (J-633) piece for $3,680. Later in June 2013 in Baltimore, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-66 piece, with a CAC sticker, for $2,530.

Those that have been PCGS- or NGC-graded from 61 to 64 are less costly. In January 2014, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-64 (J-633) 1868 piece for $1,528. In October 2016, Heritage auctioned a different PCGS-certified Proof-64 (J-633) piece for $1,175.

The counterparts in copper (J-634) are rarer, though finding one for less than $5,000 is a realistic possibility. In January 2013, Heritage auctioned an NGC-certified “Proof-63RB” piece for $4,112.50.

There is an 1869 Braided Hair, V-reverse variety (J-684) that certainly costs less than $5,000 each, generally less than $2,000. The reverse design is different from the just mentioned (J-633-34) ‘V in Wreath’ design in that there is a small Maltese cross at the top of the wreath.

Last month, Stack’s-Bowers sold an NGC-certified “Proof-58“ representative of this (J-684) variety for $564, a good deal. Apparently, this pattern exhibits a minor mint-caused imperfection that experts at NGC explicitly labeled a “Mint Error”. Whether or not this piece should be classified as an error, it is a genuine Braided Hair obverse, ‘V in Wreath with Cross’ (J-684) pattern.

In January 2012, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-certified Proof-63, Braided Hair, ‘V in Wreath with Cross’ pattern for $1,092.50. In January 2013, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified Proof-63 piece, with a CAC sticker, for $1,116.25.

There are 1871 Braided Hair obverse, ‘V in Wreath with Cents’ reverse (J-1050-52) patterns. On June 1, 2015, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS-certified “Proof-65+” piece in nickel, with a CAC sticker, for $3,408. In June 2013, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified and CAC-approved “Proof-64” piece for $1,880.

An 1871 ‘Braided Hair’/‘V in Wreath with Cents’ in copper (J-1051) may be obtained. In June 2013 and again in July 2015, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned the same PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65RB’ copper piece. In 2013, it realized $3,231.25 and it brought $2,585 in 2015. Earlier, in 2010, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned an NGC-certified ‘Proof-62BN’ piece for $1,121.25.

This same design in aluminum (J-1052) is desired by many collectors. In June 2014, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65’ piece, with a CAC sticker, for $4,700. In October 2016, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-certified ‘Proof-65’ aluminum (J-1052) pattern for $3,055.

In conclusion, Washington nickels, Elaborate Headdress Indian nickels, and several varieties of Braided Hair nickels may all be obtained for less than $5,000 per piece, for less than $3,000 in many cases. Certainly, for less than $20,000, a collector could acquire a fascinating group of five cent nickel patterns from the 1866 to 1871 period, with concepts that few coin enthusiasts ever have a chance to see in actuality. Also, the artistic aspects of these 1866 to 1871 Philadelphia Mint patterns are historically significant and entertaining.

© 2016 Greg Reynolds


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Recent Articles in the U.S. Coin Patterns for Less than $5,000 Series:

Three Cent Pieces | Two Cent Pieces | Donut Cents, 1¢ Nickels and Flying Eagles


Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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  1. Another reason for the Mint’s early reluctance to use nickel for coinage was practical: it’s much harder than any of the other metals used at the time and would have resulted in unacceptable rates of die failure. By the middle of the 19th century metallurgy had improved enough for the Mint to create hardened-steel dies that stood up under the forces needed to strike nickel alloys.


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