Interesting Facts About Early U.S. Type Nickels:
-- The "Shield" Nickel, minted after the Civil War to replace fractional currency, America's first nickel 5 cent piece.
-- The Mint's chief engraver, James B. Longacre, created the obverse design for the "Shield" nickel based on his previous 2 cent piece: shown is the familiar U.S. shield surrounded by laurel branches.
-- The reverse of early "Shield" nickels included rays between the stars but these were subsequently removed due to minting difficulties.
-- The "Liberty Head" nickel was the first assignment of the new Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, Charles E. Barber. His engraving is regarded as one of the most elegant classical U.S. coin designs. It was the last design in U.S. minting to be used on more than one denomination.
-- The inexperienced Barber left out the word "Cents" on the reverse of the coin. He simply inscribed "V" for the denomination. Thousands of the first 1883 "Liberty Head" nickels were gold-plated by racketeers and passed off on merchants as $5 gold pieces.
-- The most famous of these crooks was a deaf mute named Josh Tatum. His lawyer got him off by claiming that since Josh couldn't speak, he couldn't prevent merchants from deceiving themselves when he playfully presented them with a gold-plated nickel. That's how the expression "joshing" entered the language!
-- Later in 1883 the word "CENTS" was prominently added to the reverse of the "Liberty Head" nickel -- which helped to end the infamous gold-plated nickel scam.
-- The 1883-1913 "Liberty Head" nickel originated during the Frontier Era. Its mintages were tiny compared to modern nickels. Over ten times as many Buffalo nickels were issued and over 100 times as many Jefferson nickels.