The nickel was born out of the Civil War, when the hoarding of silver coins such as half dimes and quarters was commonplace. This prompted the creation of paper fractional currency, which just about nobody liked. After the war, in 1865, nickel mining interests successfully lobbied to get their metal included in the alloy for a new five-cent coin, which would be composed of 25 percent nickel and 75 percent copper.

Mint engraver James B. Longacre’s first nickel design was rejected because its obverse featured a bust of recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, who Mint Director James Pollock deemed too polarizing an image for defeated Southerners. Pollock also disliked Longacre’s George Washington designs, but he eventually settled on a mild variation of Longacre’s recent two-cent piece, which featured a bland shield crowned by the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” and a pair of droopy laurel branches.

When Longacre's nickels were circulated in 1866, they were promptly described as “the ugliest of all known coins.” The reverse was better, especially to contemporary eyes, but like the obverse it was not without controversy. Some said the rays—or bars, as they are also called—between the 13 six-pointed stars on the coin’s reverse were intended as a nod to Confederate soldiers. In fact, the rays were removed midway through 1867, but only because they made the coins difficult to strike.

Shield nickels were minted by the tens of millions, and many decent examples have survived to this day. Because shield nickels were only minted until 1883, they are a fairly easy coin to collect. Of the coins with rays, those from 1866 are most plentiful.

Beware of counterfeit coins dated 1871, 1874, and 1875. These coins circulated widely in the 1870s. No new nickels were minted in 1877 or 1878, although proofs were struck both years. Despite the limited mintages of these proofs (510+ and 2,350 coins respectively), the valuations on these nickels are not especially high since the quality of these coins is uniformly low.

Finally, because this coin was made using a nickel alloy, which is harder than alloys containing silver, completely-struck variations are difficult to come by. Collectors especially value Shield nickels in which all of the vertical lines on the obverse shield are fully-struck and distinct.

Shield nickels were followed in 1883 by Liberty Head nickels, which were struck for circulation until 1912.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1877 Shield Nickel 5 Cents Ngc Pf 631880 5c Ngc Proof Details Shield Nickel 5 Cents1870 Proof Shield Nickel Ngc Ms 63 Cameo Lustrous Superb Certified Rare Coin1879 Shield Nickel Rare Key Date!!! #s1866 W/rays Type Shield Nickel A Nice Philadelphia Mint Coin 1875 5c Ngc Proof Details Shield Nickel 5 Cents1883 Shield Nickel Ngc Ms 64 Lustrous Superb Certified Rare Coin1883 Shield Nickel A Very Beautiful Unc Philadelphia Mint Coin 1853 Half Dime--1867 Shield Nickel--1864 2 Cent---3 Coins In This Lot----a191866 Ngc Shield Nickel, Rays, Ngc Ms 63 * Key Date First Year Issue! ** Free S/h1881 5c Ngc Proof Details 1881 Shield Nickel 5 Cents1873 Closed 3 5c Ngc Unc Details Shield Nickel 5 Cents1883 Shield 5c Ngc Unc Details 1883 Shield Nickel 5 Cents1866 Shield Nickel, Rays, Scarce Solid Gem Bu++ Better Date ** Free Shipping!1866 Shield Nickel, With Rays ** Free Shipping!1882 Shield Nickel Great Die Cracks A Nice Philadelphia Mint Coin 1867 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1866 Shield Nickel (with Rays) Ngc Ms65!1882 Pcgs Ms66 Shield Nickel 5c Coin " Rare " Pop 82 Only !! $1200+ Price GuideLot Of (2) Shield Nickels 1876 & 18814 Shield Nickels 5 Cent Coins Old Antique Vintage Collectible Us Money Lot C251867 1868 1869 Shield Nickels & Large Cents & 1864 2 Cent & 3 Cent Culls (e30)1866 Shield Nickel--with Rays--lustrous Au1882 5c Ngc Unc Details 1882 Shield Nickel 5 Cents1869 Shield Nickel...5 Yrs. After Civil War...bids Start At $ Ship.Jewelry Store/coin Shop Closing - 1868 5c - Shield Nickel1882 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1867 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1882 Shield Nickel Ngc Ms-63 **early Uncirculated Nickel Five Cent Coin**1866 Shield Nickel, With Rays.... Great Details!!1883 Shield Nickel Very High Grade 1883 Shield Nickel 5c Higher Grade (rs1869 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 7111868 Shield Nickel Us & E10 + E-5 Brass F1 Copper German 3rd Reich Lot Nazi Coin1866 Shield Nickel W/rays, Honest Low Grade Circulated Coin No Issues Free S&h1882 Shield Nickel Us & J-5 Brass G-1 Copper + J1 German 3rd Reich Lot Nazi CoinShield Nickels - Cull - 100 Coin Lot Id# Z792Shield Nickels - Culls - 29 Coin Lot Id# Z813Shield Nickels - Cull - 28 Coin Lot Id# Z7911868 Shield Nickel Ddo ( Date ) Key Date - High Grade 1882 Shield Nickel Ngc Xf451868 Five Cent Shield Nickel Type Without Rays1870 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 718Lot Of 2 Shield Nickels 1866 & 18691869 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 7151867 Shield Nickel Very Fine Details Corrosion Dark Surfaces But Decent Free S&h100 Cull Shield Nickel Lot - Id# Z794Lot Of Four (4) U.s. Shield Nickels1866 & 1867 & 1868 & 1882 4 Coin Shield Nickel Lot-id#zz4371872 Pcgs Vf Shield Nickel Circulated Old 5c Rare Collectible Coin Free Shipping1868 1869 1883 Shield Nickels, Lot Of 41882 Shield Nickel 5 Cent Usa1870 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 7191866 Shield Nickel With Rays ,very Old & Rare,check The Scans & Bid1867 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 6931866 / 7 Shield Nickel With Rays1867 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 6871867 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 6891866 Shield Nickel A Good Coin1867 5c Shield Nickel, No Rays