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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Nickels, nickels, nickels! That beautiful sound of clinking nickels!

The Hidden History of the Nickel:

In addition to eviscerating hundreds of thousands of lives, the Civil War devastated the monetary supply of the United States as fearful Americans hoarded gold and silver coins for the value of their metals. So many coins were taken out of circulation that Congress responded by authorizing the production of fractional currency notes, some with denominations as low as three cents. The paper money, however, proved difficult to manage, and Congress soon turned to a less expensive metal for minting its coins—nickel.

America’s first “nickels” were actually pennies. Starting in 1859, the United States Mint used a nickel and copper blend to produce its one-cent pieces, and in 1865 Congress authorized the federal government to use a similar composition for its new three-cent coin.

The following year, Congress began to debate whether to mint a nickel-based five-cent coin even though the United States already had a five-cent coin in circulation—in fact, it had been minting one for seven decades. The silver “half-disme” (pronounced “half-dime” from an Old French word meaning a “tenth”) was the first coin produced by the federal government, and according to the United States Mint, the metal for the initial pieces struck in 1795 may have come directly from George and Martha Washington’s melted silverware.

The small silver coins were difficult enough to keep track of in good times, let alone when they began to vanish from circulation. As American industrialist Joseph Wharton argued, by using cheaper nickel and copper, the new five-cent coins could be bigger than the half-dismes. Wharton doggedly lobbied his many friends in Congress to begin striking a second five-cent coin made from nickel.

Of course, the businessman had just a bit of a vested interest in the issue considering that he held a virtual monopoly on the production of nickel in the United States. He had taken over a nickel mine outside of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1863, and refined the metal at his American Nickel Works in Camden, New Jersey. Wharton’s friends in Congress not only agreed to the proposal on May 16, 1866, but even increased the weight of the new five-cent coin so that it required even more nickel. Not surprisingly, Wharton ultimately made plenty of coin from the new coin, so much so that in 1881 he donated money to establish the first business school in the United States—the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Yes, An Act to Authorize the Coinage of Five-cent Pieces.  We'll ignore the direct line from Wharton to Trump for now, and focus on contemporary reviews

Over the years, there have been all sorts of critics of coin designs but the Shield nickel had the unique distinction of having its design criticized by the man who most supported the idea.

Wharton complained of the Shield nickel saying it was a “curiously ugly device,” suggesting that the obverse resembled “old-fashioned pictures of a tombstone.” Nor was he alone as the American Journal of Numismatics called the Shield nickel the “Ugliest of all known coins.”

Even with the bad reviews, the situation in terms of commerce was still desperate and the Shield nickel was quickly accepted. There was an initial 1866 mintage of 14,742,500 pieces, which is all the more impressive when you realize that half dimes were also being produced.

I love nickels, and their evolving designs.  I dread the moment Trump notices that Treasury is under his control and adds his visage and MAGA...


May 16, 2019 | Permalink


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