May 16, 1866: Birth of the Nickel

 

During the turmoil of the Civil War, silver and gold coins tended to disappear from circulation as people hoarded the precious metals.  Congress responded by ordering the mint to make low denomination coins out of non-precious metals.  Industrialist Joseph Wharton suggested the use of nickel, a metal in which he, purely by coincidence I am sure, had a near monopoly on in the U.S.  On May 16, 1866 Congress, without debate, authorized the minting of half dimes made up of 75% copper and 25% nickel.

The nickel’s appearance did not get rave reviews.  Joseph Wharton accurately described the reverse side as:  “a tombstone surmounted by a cross and overhung by weeping willows.”  To others the bars on the shield seemed to suggest the defeated Confederacy.  The American Numismatic Society gave the coin the “distinction” of being the ugliest of coins.  The term nickel soon became applied to the 5 cent coin, and the name has stuck to the coin as it has gone through many transformations over the last century and a half.

Adjusting for inflation, five cents in 1866 would be worth about seventy-five cents today.

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Published in: on May 16, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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