Thursday, May 17, 2012

Nickeled and Half-Dimed

The 1794 Half-Disme
The Original Nickel

Yesterday was the 146th birthday of the Nickel, the coin. I chanced across this fact in another context. The first nickel was 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel, but the nickel gave it its name; today’s nickel still has the same composition. It came into use in 1866 thanks to a major lobbying effort by nickel interests. Its predecessor was the half-disme, also called the half-dime, the name taken from an obsolete French word meaning “a tenth.” The half-dime was mostly silver. The appearance of the nickel, the disappearance of the half-dime—and the time when all this happened—testifies to the truth of Gresham’s law. Gold and silver coinage virtually disappeared from circulation during the Civil War; in those uncertain times, people held on to real value, which was in the metal itself, not the value that it denominated; after the war ended it was time to rework the coinage again.

I have the image of the half-dime from CoinTalk (link), showing the second version of it; the first, also shown at the link, was issued in 1792. The images of the original nickel are from Wikipedia (link).

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