US Nickel Cents of the Civil War

Nickel Cents of the Civil War

Have you ever heard the expression “he doesn’t have a nickel’s worth of sense?” Believe it or not, there used to actually be “nickel cents”.
Nickel Cents were minted during a specific time in history, and the hoarding of them, along with gold and silver coins, in Civil war times led to the passing of 18 USC 486, which made private tokens illegal to use.
Nickel Cents were pennies with the Indian head symbol that were struck between the years of 1859 – 1864 that contained 88% copper and 12% nickel. They were referred to as nickels or “nicks”, before the days of the five cent nickel piece.
We often hear today of the nuisance that pennies can be. Many people simply save them until there are enough to convert into larger coins and cash. This was also the case many years ago.
After the Civil War, the one cent pieces were all over the place and shopkeepers began to get annoyed with taking money for purchases in the form of bagged cents.

The Nickel Cent Recall

1860 US Nickel Cent1860 US Nickel Cent

In 1867, a recall was put out for all nickel cents to be exchanged for the newer three and five cent nickel coins. Persons with nickel cents to turn in were given a certificate of the nickel weight, which was then redeemed for the three and five cent pieces.
Nickel was then reserved for the eventual five cent pieces that became predominant and copper cents no longer had nickel anywhere in their composition.
Some people thought that this would make the nickel cent more valuable considering it was no longer being minted. Due to the overabundance in the production of nickel cents, they are not difficult to obtain, however because of the limited years they were minted, they are considered very collectible.
Some Nickel Cents HistoryThe Philadelphia Mint was the first institution created solely for the purpose of making coins after the Coinage Act of 1792.
Nickel cents were first minted in 1857 with the Flying Eagle as the original design. The appearance did not go over well with the public. James Barton Longacre, one of the Philadelphia Mint’s engravers designed the more popular Indian Head Cent.
Originally there was no credit given to the designer because of the already difficult task of engraving the coins made of copper and nickel. When the composition was changed to 95% copper with zinc plating in 1864, a small “L” was added.
1860 US Nickel Cent

The obverse of the original Indian Head Cent was an image of a female wearing an indigenous headdress. The words “United States Of America” are emblazoned along its circumference with the word “LIBERTY” across the headdress. The model for the woman’s face was speculated to be the daughter of the artist, however, it was likely inspired by the “Crouching Venus” statue which was in one of Philadelphia’s museums at that time.
The reverse originally had a wreath of olive leaves and “ONE CENT” prominently displayed. The coins minted after 1860 had a wreath of both oak and olive bound by a ribbon. Above it rested an image of the Federal Shield. Outside of some miniscule alterations by William Barber in 1870, the design remained until the last Indian Head Cent was minted in 1909.
The point in time that is related to “nickel cents” however is restricted to the coins that came out from 1859-1864. This period was the only time that wennies or “cents” included nickel in their composition. These nickel cents were some of the first “small cent” coins, and were hoarded in the years of the War Between the States while ‘private tokens’ were issued.

Collector’s Information On The Nickel Cent

There were well over 150 million of the “white” nickel cents minted in Philadelphia between the years of 1859-1864.
Some collectors prefer to collect by type, having only one coin from the 1859 design representing the laurel wreath and one from the 1860-1864 mint.
There are very few variations in the coins themselves, excepting one from 1860 that has a different angle on the bust of the Indian Head image.
Flaws will often show around the bow knot of the olive and oak bundle and the area around the ribbon, which will affect the grade of the coin.
The years of 1861-1864 are a bit more difficult to find.

Nickel Cent Values

The dollar values of the Indian Head cents from 1859 – 1864 range from as low as $7 – $12 U.S. dollars, depending upon the year.
This is due to the fact that while the series was limited, there was an abundance made and they were hoarded for a number of years.
The cents went out of circulation because of the war as well as their extra weight, although the original design would remain until 1909 when the Lincoln cent was introduced.

Nickel Cents an Important Part of US History

As people continue to gripe about the pennies that clog up the bottoms of purses and fill piggy banks everywhere, it’s important to take a moment and reflect on the history of this sometimes unappreciated coin denomination.
At one time, pennies weren’t just extra tax, they actually paid bills.
People worked for 10 cents an hour or less, and this was an actual living wage.
Land was purchased in some areas for less that five cents an acre.
A penny saved actually was a penny earned, and that meant something.
These nickel cents are an important part of that history and are a fine addition to any coin collection. While for the most part they are not rare, they do hold the honor of being the last coins under five cents that had any nickel in the composition as well as the beginning of the regulation of coins in the United States.
Written by Angela Sangster, Copyright 2011