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    

1866 Shield Nickel, With Rays, Sharp Gem Bu++ Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1881 Shield Nickel Proof, Ngc Pf 64+ ** Great Eye-appeal, Super Pq Pr, Free S/h!No Reserve Auction 1879 Pcgs Proof 63 Shield Nickel Rare Coin1873 Shield Nickel Strong Doubled Die Obverse Cherrypickers Variety No Reserve!1873 Shield Nickel ☆ Closed Three - Rare Fs-102 ☆ - Ax11271867 Shield Nickel, Nice, Bu Mint Luster! ** Free Shipping!1883 Shield Nickel, Sharp Choice Bu++, Last Year Minted ** Free Shipping!1873 5c Shield Nickel Ngc Ms64 1867 Shield Nickel ** Free Shipping!Vintage 1883 Shield Nickel Nice Us Nickle Us Nickel Us 5 Cent Piece Us Coin Old1867 5c Shield Nickel Vintage Us Copper Coin #tc15 Very Sharp Looker See Pics1874 Shield Nickel, Re-punched, Choice Bu Better Date, ** Free Shipping!1867 With Rays Shield Nickel 5c Coin Auction Starts At 99 Cents! 1874 Shield-nickel-km-97-extremely Fine-free-usa-shipping-xf1868 Shield Nickel Au1883 Shield Nickel Au2 Coins) Very Nice Fine W/ Patina 1867 & 1868 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin Lot1866 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1872 Shield Nickel: Doubled Die Obverse: F-119(?): Xf: No Reserve!1868 Ddo Au Shield Nickel From Estate Starts @1.991867 Shield Nickel, Very Nice Choice Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1882 Shield Nickel, Au1868 Shield Nickel With Great Details1868 Shield Nickel // Low Mintage! // (sn373)1883 Shield 5 Cents Ngc Au 551883 Shield Nickel Pcgs Unc Details 5c Coin Cleaning Not Obvious1868 Shield Nickel. #5s1741871 Us Shield Nickel! Key Date! Low Mintage! Old Us Coins!1869 Shield Nickel, ** Free Shipping!Nice Circulated Fine/f+ Details Tougher Date 1872 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin 1867 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping2 Shield Nickels1869 Shield Nickel Semi-key Date Civil War Era Philadelphia Mint 5 Cents Coin Very Sharply Struck Xf+ To Au Details 1868 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin1883 Shield Nickel, Gorgeous Superb Gem Bu++, Sharp ** Free Shipping!1950-d Ms 66 Roosevelt Dime Pcgs Graded ** Gorgeous Ms-66 No Toning **Choice Original Problem Free Fine/f+ 1882 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin1868 Shield Nickel, Short Series N1578 L124 1866 Shield Nickel // Low Mintage! // (sn378)1869 Shield Nickel, Tough Limited Series ** No Reserve ** N1575 L1241869 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1867 Shield Nickel, With Rays Reverse Good, True Auction1866 5c Rays Shield Nickel Vintage Us Copper Coin #rd21 Sharp Reverse1869 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1874 Shield Nickel. #5s1751868 5c Shield Nickel Vintage Us Copper Coin #fm13 Sharp Eye Appeal1867 Shield Nickel With Rays. Lot 61868 Shield Nickel ** Free Shipping!1869 Shield Nickel ** Free Shipping!1867 5c No Rays Shield Nickel1868 Shield Nickel. G. 1867 Shield 1869 Shield Nickel // Low Mintage! // (sn145)1867 No Rays Shield Nickel1883 Shield 5c Ngc Xf Details 1883 Shield Nickel1868 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1866 W/ Rays Shield Nickel (5 Cent) No Reserve Estate Coin Nr Combine Shipping 31866 W/ Rays Shield Nickel (5 Cent) No Reserve Estate Coin Nr Combine Shipping 22 Coins) Nice Very Good Vg Details 1867 & 1868 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin LotOutstanding 1868 Shield Nickel (5c) Coin An5011 K