From the April 2004 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:
The Most Mis-Attributed Nickel Of All: The 1883/2 Shield Nickel
On my website, I buy and sell lots of shield nickels every month. In fact, nickels in general have been just about my most active denomination for the last year or so, particularly the shields and Jeffersons, with Liberty heads and buffalos lagging behind. As an example, I put up a group of about 175 BU rolls of Jeffersons for sale at a good price, and the whole lot was sold in less than 24 hours. In the realm of shield nickels, they are very difficult to keep in stock other than the very common 1867 no rays issue. Better dates like the 1871 sell almost immediately even if they are dark, pitted, or otherwise defective. Apparently, others are having the same problem since Greysheet values have been jumping up lately on this series.
In the shield nickel series, the 1882 and 1883 issues are quite readily available, especially the 1882, though not nearly so much as the 1867 no rays and the 1868. Obviously the introduction of the Liberty head nickel did not result in significant hoarding of shield nickels because most of the 1882ís and 1883ís that I handle are well worn AG to VG. These two dates are also reasonably available in Uncirculated condition, but I find the grades Fine to Extra Fine rather difficult to locate.
Here is where the difficulty comes into the picture. When 1882 shield nickels are worn down to Very Good or lower condition, the number 2 in the date tends to be more of a blob than anything else. Even the outline of this blob does not much resemble a number 2. You really only know it is a 2 by process of elimination: it is not round enough to be a 0, itís too big to be a 1, and the shape is just not right for a 3. Illustrated here is the date from a typical 1882 shield nickel in Very Good condition showing the appearance of the digit 2 in the date.
1882 nickel in Very Good
As you can see in the picture, the 2 in the date is indistinct and not clear at all even on this Very Good specimen. If you havenít seen many of these, you may even question what the date is. Well, I can tell you from experience that it is definitely an 1882, and definitely not an 1883 or a 1883/2 overdate. However, this is just the kind of coin that I often see attributed as the much more valuable overdate.
I also made a scan of a high grade (Mint State 64) shield nickel for comparison. The date area is illustrated here so you can see what the 2 looks like on a new coin. The image probably does not reproduce clearly enough to see it, but there is some die roughness and chipping visible around the 2, all of which will wear together to become an indistinct blob with a few years of circulation.
1882 nickel in Mint State
So, as a collector, here is what you should do. You may have to find the 1883/2 nickel in at least Fine condition to be sure that it is an overdate. When you have the opportunity to buy one of these coins, compare it to a close up picture of the overdate to make sure that everything matches up. This variety has been extensively illustrated, and can be found in the Breen Encyclopedia, the Cherrypickers Guide, the Redbook, etc. If you are not convinced that the specimen you are looking at is really the overdate, it may be a good idea to pass on it. If you are not convinced that it is an overdate, then the person you eventually try to sell it to probably will not be convinced either. While this variety is scarce, a clear specimen can be found with some searching.
The easy way to make sure that the nickel you want truly is an overdate is to buy one which has been slabbed by one of the many certification services out there. If you want a raw coin, the overdate is reasonably easy to see in grades of Extra Fine, AU, and Mint State. Of course the price goes way up along with the grade, so this may not be a realistic option, so just be careful and make sure that the date matches what you see in the reference books.
Good luck in your search!
Postscript September 2004
In August 2004 I received an email message from Mr. Howard Spindel, a researcher of the Shield nickel series. He alerted me to make sure that it was obvious in my article that the 2 in the date of many 1882 nickels is already filled in when the coin is struck, probably due to die chipping within the two loops of the 2. With a little bit of wear, the roughness of the die chips smoothes out and the number and die chips all blend together into a single blob.
Those of you who are ANA members have seen his article in the September 2003 issue of The Numismatist dealing with this same variety. In his article, he notes that there are five varieties of the 1883/2 Shield nickel, two of which are pretty nice while the other three are rather unimpressive. The two strong varieties along with one of the weaker varieties can be seen in the Cherrypicker's Guide by Bill Fivaz and J. T. Stanton.
An additional way of telling if you are looking at a possible 1883/2 Shield nickel is to look at the spacing of the numbers in the date. If the coin you are examining is just a 1882 with a filled 2, the numbers in the date will be fairly close together. A new date punch was put into service for the 1883 coins, and this new punch has the numbers noticeably further apart.
A big thank you goes out to Mr. Spindel for critiquing my article!
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Questions, comments, or suggestions? Mail to: Mike@alaskacoinexchange.com