In honor of the coin’s 150th anniversary, read up on how the nickel came to be minted
The nickel wasn’t always worth five cents. In 1865, the U.S. nickel was a three-cent coin. Before that, “nickel cents” referred to alloy pennies. It turns out that even the name “nickel” is misleading. “Actually, nickels should be called ‘coppers,’” says coin expert Q. David Bowers. Today’s so-called nickels are 75 percent copper.
Those aren’t the only surprises hidden in the history of the nickel. The story of America’s five-cent coin is, strangely enough, a war story. And 150 years since it was first minted in 1866, the modest nickel serves as a window into the symbolic and practical importance of coinage itself.
To understand how the nickel got its name, you have to go back to an era when precious metals reigned supreme. In the 1850s, coins of any real value were made of gold and silver. In the event of a financial crisis—or worse, the collapse of a government—precious metal coins could always be melted down. They had intrinsic value. Continue Reading →