Throughout the 19th century, the Philadelphia Mint was responsible for producing all small circulating coinage, initially cents and half cents and later nickels. As such, for nearly the entire Liberty Nickel series, the Philadelphia Mint exclusively handled production. It was only in the final year that the Denver and San Francisco Mint facilities struck a limited number of pieces before engaging in higher production for subsequent series.
The original mintage for the circulation strike 1885 Liberty Nickel was 1,472,700 pieces at the Philadelphia Mint. This was considerably lower than the mintage levels for the previous two years of the series due to the impact of an economic slow down. In 1883, production had reached 5,474,300 pieces for the “without CENTS” variety and 16,026,200 pieces for the “with CENTS” variety. This was followed by a mintage of 11,270,000 pieces in 1884. The years after 1885 saw mintage levels rebound. In 1886, a year still considered to be a semi-key date, production reached 3,326,000. This was followed by production of 15,260,692 in 1887 and then several more years of production above the 10 million mark.
As noted, the low mintage of the 1885 nickel was compounded by the extensive original circulation of the issue. At the time, coin collecting was not widespread so the lower mintage was not noted and very few pieces were put aside. Only decades later when collecting became more widespread would collectors put the issue aside and by this time many examples had been well worn or lost.
The Philadelphia Mint also struck proof examples of the 1885 nickel. The total production in proof format was 3,790 pieces. Although this figure is far below the circulation strike mintage, it is important to note that these early proof coins were minted and directly distributed to coin collectors and dealers of the day. The coins would then be held in collections and treated carefully. As such, the survival rate for these pieces was high, leaving ample supply for future collecting generations.
Nonetheless, there is a still a premium attached to the 1885 Proof Liberty Nickel. This stems not from its mintage but from the scarcity of the circulation strike issue, which creates additional demand for the proof. Especially in earlier years, collectors who could not acquire or afford a mint state proof example would opt for a proof coin, creating additional demand for the issue compared to other proofs with comparable mintages.