The 1883 Liberty Nickel represented the first year of issue for the series. The coin was issued with two different reverse designs. The first is “without CENTS” referring to the lack of identification of the denomination, while the second is known as “with CENTS”. The alteration of the design represents one of the often recounted tales of numismatics.
When Charles Barber created the design for the coin, the denomination was indicated with only the Roman numeral “V” on the reverse. Because the diameter of the nickel was nearly the same as the diameter of the $5 Gold piece, some unscrupulous individuals came up with the idea of gold plating the nickels and passing them off as the larger denomination. In some cases, edge reeding was even added to the coins to make the alteration even more convincing. Word of the so called “Racketeer Nickels” spread, and newspaper articles began to appear calling for the addition of the word “CENTS” to more clearly identify the denomination.
The United States Mint struck a total mintage of 5,474,300 of the 1883 Liberty Nickels “without CENTS” before putting into use new dies with an altered reverse design. The word “CENTS” was added below the wreath, and the inscription that previously appeared in this place “E PLURIBUS UNUM” was moved above the wreath in smaller letters. The US Mint would strike 16,026,200 of the 1883 Liberty Nickels “with CENTS”. Both versions were also struck in proof format.
Because of the curious lack of denomination and the many stories circulating about the coins, those “without CENTS” were hoarded by the public. This makes them more readily available today than the higher mintage version “with CENTS”.