Liberty Head (V) Nickel – Can You Dig It?

In January of 1970 I dug my first V Nickel, a very nice 1902. I had only been metal detecting for about three weeks and was using my $50.00 Medeford BFO detector that my wife gave me for a Christmas gift. Linda did not realize the impact that gift was going to have on my life and finding that V nickel was a key to my becoming hooked on this treasure finding hobby.

Joe Denmark, who grew up in the Tarpon Springs, FL area, had told me about attending a one-room school in Palm Harbor, that was now an orange grove. That Saturday morning in January, I went to the grove and got permission from the owner to hunt a section of the grove that Joe said the school was located. Within twenty minutes I located the 1902 V Nickel and ten minutes later got a 1905. These were the only two coins I found that morning, but I was wowed by the experience. In forty years of metal detecting, I have dug up nearly every date of the collection except for rare 1885, and 1912 S. This nickel variety has an interesting story and I want to make it the monthly dug coin give-away for October, 2008.

The Liberty Head (V) Nickels were officially minted from 1883 to 1912. However, a mint official illegally produced an unknown quantity with the date of 1913. There are five known examples and one sold in June, 2005 for $4.15 million, the second highest price ever paid for a single US coin.

The original 1883 issue lacked the word “cents” on the reverse. Since the nickels were the same size as the $5.00 gold pieces, some counterfeiters plated them with gold and attempted to pass them off as such. Legend says that a deaf mute named Josh Tatum was the creator of this fraud, and he could not be convicted because he simply gave the coins in payment for items selling less than five cents, but did not protest if he was given change appropriate to a five-dollar coin. Sometimes the 1883 nickel is referred to as the “Racketeer Nickel”, and Josh Tatum is sometimes cited as the source of the saying, “Your not Joshin’ me, are you?”

V nickels were minted only at Philadelphia until 1912, when Denver and San Francisco each minted small quantities. The 1912 S is the second toughest key to the series. The D or S mint mark is located on the reverse, just below the left-hand dot near the seven-o’-clock position on the rim and I ain’t “Joshin you.” With less than 35 regular issue coins, this is still a set that the metal detecting hobbyist can come close to completing.