Liberty Head Nickel Overview
Although not as well known as the Buffalo nickel, the Liberty Head nickel is a popular series that is still actively collected by many coin collectors. One of the biggest draws to collecting Liberty Head nickels is that most dates are widely available and a collection can be put together on a relatively low budget.
Charles Barber was the designer of the Liberty Head nickel and his design was approved by the Mint in 1883. Production started that same year and would continue to be produced until 1912, a 29-year run. The famous Buffalo nickel would be the replacement for Liberty Head nickels in 1913.
On the obverse, a bust of Lady Liberty can be found centered facing left and wearing a cornet inscribed with “LIBERTY.” Thirteen small stars can be found along the rim of the obverse. The date of mintage is centered at the bottom of the obverse, just below Liberty’s neck.
A very simplistic main design that features the roman numeral “V” and a wreath is centered on the reverse. The mottos “UNITED STATES” and “E PLURIBUS UNUM” can be found directly above the tips of the wreath. “CENTS” is found centered at the bottom and is meant to be used in conjunction of the Roman numeral “V” to mean “Five Cents.”
If you would like to know more about the Liberty Head nickel or other rare and collectible nickels, be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Nickels.
History of the 1901 Liberty Head Nickel
Most coin series at the turn of the century saw a large uptick in production because of the increase in population and economic activity. The 1901 Liberty Head nickel was no different and saw a large increase in production.
The Mint at Philadelphia reports minting a total of 26,478,000 examples of the 1901 Liberty Head nickel, which is similar to the mintage of other similar dates in the series. Mintages would rise in the last few years of the series much higher than what was struck in 1901.
Liberty Head nickels are composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel, which has been the common composition for America’s nickels. Each also has a 21.21-millimeter diameter and a weight of 5.0 grams. Denticles can be found on the obverse and reverse and no reeding is present on the edge of the coin
Overused Dies Lead to Average Strikes
1901 Liberty Head nickels had huge mintages that were unheard of just several decades before. One problem that the US Mint ran into while making such large production runs was that dies were often overused. These overused dies would then be used to create coins that had a lack of details and little luster.
Normally, dies used to strike coins are replaced after a certain number of coins are struck, otherwise the quality of the coins begins to deteriorate. Sometimes dies are not replaced right away for certain reasons, which allows the creation of a significant number of coins that lack details and luster.
For the Liberty Head nickels produced in 1901, the overuse of dies was a huge issue that resulted in millions of coins being produced with weak details and luster. For average users of coinage, this wasn’t issue, but for collectors today, this makes putting together a quality set of Liberty Head nickels very difficult.
The main area of weakness for the 1901 Liberty Head nickels is the bottom of the wreath on the reverse. Small details are not present and edges are rounded where they should be sharp.
Well-struck pieces show strong depth and no rounding on the high parts of the design. Even small details are clear and quite easy to see.
Lack of luster was another issue that occurred with worn dies because the surface was worn and unpolished. Luster plays a big part in a coin’s eye appeal, so having little to no luster on Mint-condition examples really hurts the price.
Pricing the 1901 Liberty Head Nickel
Since weak strikes were common for this date, all given prices are assuming average strikes. Strikes that are more defined and have more detail will command a premium for high-graded examples.
Examples that are in Good 4 and Very Good 8 condition are priced at $2. A price increase to $5 is realized when the grade increases to Fine 12. Very Fine 20 examples command a price of $13 and Extremely Fine examples are priced at $31.
Premium-grade examples that are in uncirculated condition still survive and command much higher prices.
A current price of $85 is given to any 1901 Liberty Head nickels that are in MS-60. The price jumps to $155 for coins that grade three points higher at MS-63. MS-65 examples are somewhat scarce and command a price of $525.NGC has graded only two examples of the 1901 Liberty Head nickel that are in MS-67 condition. Currently, a price of $13,500 is assigned to a MS-67 example, some of which have sold for over $28,000 at auction!