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    

1883 Shield Nickel Nice Original Very Choice Bu1867 Shield Nickel No Rays Ngc Unc DetailsRare Coin Alert!!! 1867 Shield Nickel With Rays Ngc Ms-65 Gem Bu Old HolderΩ 1867 Shield Nickel, No Rays Au1873 Sheild Nickel Stars Copper Coin Xf1868 5c Au Shield Nickel With Large Cud On Obverse Item#2793 Nk1883 Shield Nickel...nice Original W/ Sharp Detail & Tons Of!!1882 Ms++++ Shield Nickel From Big CollectionLot Of 25 Shield Nickels! Dates From 1866-1883! Rare! Hard To Find! Great! 7991867 5c Rays Shield Nickel Rare Coin!!! No Reserve!!!!!3 Piece Shield 5 Cent Lot C311883 Shield Nickel ~ Very Fine Detail ~ Holed1868 Shield Nickel Anacs Au 531866 Rays Shield 5c Pcgs Au58; Very Well Struck And Virtually Free Of Die Breaks1883 Pcgs Ms 63 Shield Nickel, Old Green Holder Ogh Rattler, Free Shipping!Lot Of 24 Shield Nickels! Dates From 1866-1883! Rare! Hard To Find! Some No Date1878 United States Shield Nickel 5 Cent Coin - Wow!1866 Shield Nickel With Rays.1867 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 50891867 Shield Nickel 5c Stars/no Rays Bid Now!! Don't Miss(cc#12)1876 5c Shield Nickel Great Condition Xf+ : Ct9551869 Us 5 Cent Shield Nickel Var. 2 Extra Sharp1867 Shield Nickel With Rays Key Coin 3 Day Auction!!! Low Starting Bid! 3 Days1869 Shield Nickel1867 Us Shield Nickel Without Rays1876 Shield Nickel ~ Porous#3141 - 1867 - Shield Nickel - G1866 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 5128Lot Of (18) Low Grade/cull 1866-1883 Shield Nickels Id# P601882 Shield Nickel Free Shipping1868 Shield Nickel Us 5 Cent Coin1869 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 51291866 Five Cent Shield Nickel : Combined Shipping1876 Shield Nickel.1867 Five Cent Shield Nickel Bent : Combined Shipping**1869**xf**shield Type Nickel1869 Shield Nickel 5c1867 Shield Nickel With Rays Lots Of Details But Porous-dug From Ground1866 Shield Nickel, With Rays, ** Free Shipping!No Reserve !!! Early Type Shield Nickel W/o Rays 1868 Environmental Issues #5381872 Shield Nickel- Semi-key !! Better Date !! #w83071869 Shield Type Without Rays 5 Cent CoinLot Of 13 Shield Nickels 1882 1866 1867 1868 1869 Rays No Reserve!!1867 Shield Nickel Rays Great Deals From The Tecc Bargain Bin1869 Shield Nickel With Nice Detail1866 Shield Nickel ~ PorousLot Of 4 Us Shield Nickels 1866 1867 1868 1869 Well Circulated Low Grade1867 No Rays Shield Nickel Coin1869 Shield Nickel ~ Good+1910 Liberty Head Nickel.1867 And 1868 Shield Nickels.1867 Five Cent Shield Nickel Bent : Combined Shipping1866 Five Cent Shield Nickel Bent : Combined Shipping2 Piece Lot Shield Nickels Unique 5 Cent Pieces 1873 And 1866 C401868 Five Cent Shield Nickel Bent : Combined Shipping1867 5c - Shield Nickel - Without Rays - About Good 70883 1867 5c - Shield Nickel - Without Rays - Corroded - Fine 70878 1867 Shield Nickel ~ Porous1869 Shield Nickel ~ Porous1883 Shield Nickel With Missing Arrow Shaft