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    

1874 Shield Nickel, Au ** Free Shipping!Hjb - 1883 Shield Nickel Pf62 Ngc1882 Shield Nickel, Choice Xf ** Free Shipping!34pc Roll Of Shield & Liberty Nickels { 1869 Shield Nickel Ddo & Liberty Nickel1883 Shield Nickel, Razor Sharp Gem Bu Final Year Issue, Doubled Die Obverse!1866 Shield Nickel ~ With Rays Variety ~ Nicely Struck ~ 1866 Shield Nickel.............no Reserve 1866 With Rays Shield Nickel Pcgs Xf40 Rare Old Type Coin 5c No Problem Original1871 Shield Nickel1881 Shield Nickel -id# H1901869 5c Shield Nickel Better Date Ngc Vf30 Choice!Shield Nickel With Rays 1895 Indian Head Cent Us 3rd Reich German Coins Nazi Lot1874 Shield Nickel Anacs F 12 1869 Shield Nickel Au-bu1867 Shield Nickel F-vf Details Corrosion, Nice Honest Coin, Free S&h. .01 StartShield Nickels Group Of Five Coins* All Circulated * See Dates & Info Below 1868 Us Shield Nickel! Extra Fine Details! Old Us Coins!1875 Shield Nickel1871 Shield Nickel - Good Details33pc Roll Of Shield & Uncirculated Liberty Nickels { 1867 1868 1883 With Cent } 1868 Shield Nickel - Almost Mint *repunched Date, 86 On Ball* (c190)1883 Shield Nickel1876 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 83981866 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 8345 1868 & 1884 Shield And Liberty "v" Nickels Up For Auction (good - Vg Quality) 1868 Shield Nickel With The "g. A. Hastings" Counterstamps. Obverse And Edge C/s1869 Shield Nickel1867 Shield Nickel1862 Shield Nickel (14075)1867 Shield Nickel1866 Shield Nickel1868 Shield Nickel1873 5c Open 3 Shield Nickel - Ch Au, Better Date & Grade Coin (292111t)1867 Shield Nickel, No Rays1867 Shield Nickel With Rays1868 Shield Nickel1876 Shield NickelMixed Roll $2 Face Shield And V Nickels Well Circulated1868 Shield Nickel W/o Rays Ag Circulated1868 Shield Nickel Extra Fine Details Corrosion, Complete Shield Lines, Free S&h1882 Raw Shield Nickel1870 Shield Nickel - About Good Details1872 Shield Nickel - Very Fine Details1868 Shield Nickel - Very Good Details2-1868 Shield Nickel's 5-cent Circulated Coin1866 Shield Nickel Vg Details1866 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 83781883 Shield Nickel Nice Details Doubled Lettering And Date1868 Nickel! No Reserve! Nice Coin!1873 Shield Nickel Vf To Xf Details1882/3 Shield Nickel Good Coin1876 Pitted Shield Nickel - About Good Details1875 Dark Shield Nickel - About Good DetailsCirculated 1869 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1866 Shield Nickel - Very Fine *detailed, Dark* (a885)Circulated 1869 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping3 Shield Nickels1866 Shield Nickel Rays - Fine Details1868 5c Shield Nickel 1870's 5c Shield Nickel Circulated See Scan! Great Coin! 5 Cent!