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    

1867 No Rays Shield Nickel With Major Repunched Date - Fletcher-25, Pcgs Ms-621880 Shield Nickel. Key Date!1865 Three Cent 3 Cn (ngc Graded) Original In High Beaming Mint Luster Ms 63Hjb - 1883 Shield Nickel Au Details Cleaned Pcgs Genuine 1866 5c Rays Shield Nickel Xf Problem Free No Reserve1881 Shield Nickel Vg Very Good Rare Date 68,800 MintageUncirculated 1866 Rays Shield Nickel ~ Solid Strike ~ Free Shipping!1867 Shield Nickel, Very Nice, ** Free Shipping!1867 No Rays Shield Nickel With Strong Doubled Die Obverse And Repunched Date1868 Shield Nickel, Great Series! ** Free Shipping!Lot Of Two Shield Nickels Rays Dates: 1866, 18671879 Shield Nickel // Key Date! // (sn237)1867 5c No Rays Shield Nickel Die Break Great Details!!!1867 No Rays Shield Nickel Coin1881 Shield Nickel Choice Vg/f Great Color Nice Strike1883 Shield Nickel - Very Pretty Au+ Coin - Light ScratchesUs A Group Of 4 Shield NickelsLot Of 2: Shield Nickels... 1866 And 1882Better Variety 1866 W/rays Shield Nickel1878 Shield Nickel // Key Date! // (sn703)1867 Shield Nickel Free Shipping1883 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 63581866 Shield Nickel W/raysLot Of 2 Shield Nickels 140x1869 Shield Nickel1869 Tall Date Shield Nickel Choice Vf/xf Great Color Great Eye Appeal1870 Shield Nickel1867 5c Shield Nickel Us CoinLot Of 20 Shield Nickels1869 5c Shield Nickel Us Coin1868 Shield Nickle 5-cent Coin1870 Shield Nickel Post Civil War Era Coin Higher Grade #a1872 Rare Shield Nickel From Big Collection1868 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 63771868 Shield Nickel Low Opening Bid No Reserve1882 Shield Nickel ~ Hole Filler ~ Re-punched Date1882 Pcgs Genuine Vf Details Shield Nickel!!1868 Shield Nickel W/free Shipping L@@k!!!1876 Shield Nickel Nice Vg Neat Die Crack Nice Color1870 Shield Nickel Tough Date Nice Free Shipping1874 Shield Nickel Id# Hh5441870 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 53651867 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 53741867 No Rays Shield Nickel Ngc Extra Fine (h814)1866 Shield Nickel ~ Rays ~ About Good1868 Shield Nickel ~ Good1882 Shield Nickel - Very Good Details 1867 Shield Nickel ~ Dark ~ Hole Filler1869 Shield Nickel ~ Hole Filler1874 Shield Nickel ~ Damaged1866 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 5361