In 1881, Mint Director
Archibald Snowden decided to unify the designs on the 1-cent, 3-cent
and 5-cent coins. Mint Chief Engraver, Charles Barber, was chosen to
design the new coins. Snowden was unable to gain the required support
to change the 1-cent and 3-cent designs, so only the 5-cent design was
produced for circulation.
Barber chose a classical design for the obverse, featuring the figure
of a woman facing left. The woman is wearing a coronet engraved with
the word 'LIBERTY' and has sprigs of wheat and cotton in her hair. She is
surrounded by thirteen stars, and the date appears below her. The reverse
the Liberty Without Cents Nickel displays the Roman numeral V inside a
wreath made of ears of corn, ears of wheat, bolls, and leaves of
cotton. Above the wreath is the legend 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA', and
the motto 'E PLURIBUS UNUM' below it.
Controversy immediately followed the release of this nickel, as the
denomination, 'CENTS', did not appear on the coin. Counterfeiters
reeded the edges and plated the Liberty Nickels in gold in an attempt
to pass them off as 5 dollar gold coins. These Liberty nickels were
called "Racketeer" nickels. Within the year, the mint added the
denomination to the reverse side and production continued.