The other night I stopped by the bakery to get a little something sweet (because my doctor has put the kibosh on large-sized sweets). The bill came to only $1.09, and I took the opportunity to rid myself of some pennies.
As I was digging through my coin purse, I pulled out something I had never seen before.
Heedless of the people in line behind me, I stopped what I was doing and stared at it.
It was a coin. It was silver. But it looked foreign. Was it Canadian?
I’ve put a lot of weird things in my coin purse, but Canadian currency is not among them.
“What is THAT?” I said aloud. “And where did it come from?” I couldn’t make out the tiny words on the back of the coin.
“Let me see,” said the cashier. She tilted the coin and squinted at it. “It says ‘United States of America. And there’s a big V in the middle,” she said. “Maybe it’s a nickel?”
I looked at the front of the coin, and a voice in my head whispered, “That’s a Liberty Head nickel.”
The voice is my head was my mother’s.
My mother was a coin collector. When I was little, we would sit at the kitchen table together and roll pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. She taught me how to check the dates and the mint marks on the coins, so I could tell whether a coin was made in Philadelphia, San Francisco or Denver. I would get so excited when I would found a coin that would fill a hole in her collection.
She had collector’s books full of Wheat Back pennies, Buffalo nickels and Mercury dimes, from back in the days before we put dead presidents on all the money.
The Liberty Head nickel was first made in 1883. The front of the coin features the head of Miss Liberty (we know this because she is wearing a crown that says “LIBERTY”), facing to the left. The back of the coin features a large V (for “five,” in case you have forgotten your Roman numerals) surrounded by a wreath.
It used to say “E Pluribus Unum” underneath the “V,” but that didn’t last very long. Seems the new nickel was almost the same size as a five-dollar gold piece, and unscrupulous folks quickly figured out they could gold-plate the new coin so it appeared to be worth five dollars instead of five cents.
After only five months, the U.S. Treasury brought nickel production to a screeching halt, and redesigned the coin to replace “E Pluribus Unum” with “CENTS.”
In 1913, the Liberty Head nickel was replaced by the Buffalo nickel, which has a buffalo on the back.
The nickel in my coin purse was from 1907. Someone must have given it to me with my change. That nickel has been out there in circulation, still doing its job, for 112 years.
Miss Liberty’s profile was worn smooth, after passing through generations of hands and vending machines and cash registers. How many places had she visited in her century-long journey from the mint in Philadelphia to Alabama?
I sat at a table in the bakery, savoring my little sweet and admiring my serendipitous nickel.
And then I googled, “How much is a 1907 Liberty Head nickel worth?”
Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.