The nickel, as we know, is worth five cents, which is half the value of a dime. This is what the coin that preceeded the nickel was called, the half disme. The "s" is silent, so the word is pronounced "dime". The half dime was made of silver and was very small, making it hard for people to use and very easy to loose. Today a nickel isn't worth much, but in the early 1800's, a nickel might represent a day's work.
So in 1866 the United States Mint began issuing nickels with a composition of 75% copper and 35% nickel. The nickels were the same size as the coin we are familiar with today, but the design was much different. The obverse featured the United States shield, the reverse a large "5" surrounded by thirteen stars which represented the original thirteen states. These coins, because of the design, proved very hard to strike. So this series of nickles was discontinued in 1883.
The Liberty, or "V", nickle began production in 1883 and continued until 1913. The obverse pictured a Liberty head surrounded by thirteen stars. The reverse had a large Roman Numeral "V". The first coins minted in this series did not have the word "Cents" on them. This nickel was the same size and design as the five dollar gold piece in use at the time. So some enterprising persons plated the coins gold, then passed them off as gold pieces. The Mint soon added the word "Cents" to stop this practice.
In 1913 the Liberty Head Nickel was replaced by the Buffalo Nickel. This coin has a buffalo on the reverse, hence the name. It also is called the Indian head nickel because of the American Indian bust shown on the obverse. This coin was minted until 1938 when it was superseded by the currently used Jefferson Nickel.
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