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    

Awesome 1876 Shield Nickel1867 Shield Nickel, Razor Sharp Strike Definition, ** Free Shipping!1872 Shield Nickel High Grade Broken S ErrorKey Date 1867 "rays" Shield Nickel Au/unc** Tough Coin1866 Pcgs Vf35 Shield Nickel With Rays !!! Awesome Coin !!!1873 Shield Nickel "cents" 436,050 Produced21 Piece Antique Shield Nickel Lot * Free Shipping *1866 Shield Nickel With Rays5c Five Cents 1866 Ef W/rays Shield Nickel Better Grade No Reserve.1881 5c Shield Nickel Pf 62 Nice Coin !!!!!!!!!!!1866 Shield Nickel, With Rays, Lustrous Choice Gem, ** Free Shipping!1866 Shield Nickel Rays And Stars. Wonderful Condition!!!!!1867 1868 1882 Shield Nickel 3 Piece Lot Better Condition United States Coins 1883 Shield Nickel Ngc Ms63 Rare Old Type Coin Choice Uincirculated High Grade!1868 Shield Nickel Cc1291883 Shield Nickel, Ngc Ms 621868 5c Shield Nickel Us Type Coin Nice Coin!1882 Ms+++ Shield Nickel From Big Collection1873 United States Shield Nickel Open 31873 Shield Nickel Open 31867 Shield Nickel 5¢- High Grade- Xf Damaged Obv6 Holed Shield Nickels 1866 & 1867 Both With Rays! Vf Details!! Ccc Nr AuctionUnited States 1883 Shield NickelUnited States 1867 Shield Nickel1871 5 Cent Shield Nickel Coin Better Date Good1882 Shield Nickel - Extra Fine *possible Repunched Date 82/82* (b458)1867 - 1882 Five Piece Lot Shield Nickel United States Coins No Reserve1875 Shield Nickel ~ Very Good - Very Hard To FindLot Of Three (3) Shield 5c Nickels. 1867(no Rays), 1868 & 1870. Free Shipping.Three Worn Shield Nickels 1867 1867 And 1868. Three Coins.1866 Shield Nickel With Rays United States 5 Cent Coin No Reserve1867 Shield Nickle1867 Shield Nickel, Clear Missing Leaf VarietyUs 1867 Shield Nickel With Rays - Repunched Date - Anacs 40 Details1868 5c Shield Nickel1868 Very Fine Vf Details Shield Nickel1867 Shiled Nickel With Rays No Reserve Auction 1867 No Rays Shield Nickel Almost Uncirculated1882 Shield Nickel! No Reserve!United States 1868 Shield NickelCirculated 1868 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1867 Shield Nickel Better Grade (rt1882 Shield Nickel.1873 Open 3 Shield Nickel Au Condition1866 Shield Nickel, With Rays, Pq Choice Bu First Year Issue, ** Free Shipping!1876 5 Cent Shield Nickel Coin Good 1874 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 71271874 Shield Nickel-tuff Date Starts .99 No Reserve! Lifetime Collection 4 Sale!1883 Shield Nickel 5c Choice Fine F+ Original Pleasing Gray Last Year1867 Shield Nickel ~ Kool Find!1883 Shield Nickel Rare Stunning Bu+++++ Gem CoinLot Of 2 Shield Nickels 1866 18821876 Shield Nickel 5c Pcgs Ms63 In Old Green SlabCirculated 1867 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1867 Shield Nickel No Rays Anacs Ef 40 Details Scratched Corroded 5 Cent Auction20 Old Nickels - Mix Of Shield, Liberty And Buffalo And Jefferson1882 Shield Nickel Very Good To Fine1867 Vf Xf Shield Nickel Decent Coin Haz1866 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 7116Very Good 1868 5c U.s. Shield Nickel (no Reserve) [d90]