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    

1875 Shield Nickel Scarce Business Strike Boarders Uncirculated Key Date1876 Shield Nickel Proof, Flashy Choice Gem Pf! ** Free Shipping!1883 Shield Nickel, Pcgs Ms62, Very Appealing Example David Kahn Rare CoinsAlmost Unc Au Details 1866 With Rays Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin Ccc Nr AuctionHjb - 1873 Shield Nickel Xf Details Closed 3 Pcgs Genuine 1867 Shield Nickel, With Rays, Tough Choice Au++/unc Date, ** Free Shipping!5pc Lot Us Liberty Shield Nickels Five Cent Coins 1867 1873 1882 1883 1888 Nr1867 Ray Shield Nicke 5c With Rays, Pcgs Au 58, No Reserve!!1883 Shield Nickel, Very Nice Near Gem Bu++ Final Year Issue, ** Free Shipping!1866 Shield Nickel Au Details Ngc Certified Strike Through Error1868 Shield Nickel 5c Ngc Au 551866 Shield Nickel - Au55 - Graded By Anacs1872 Shield Nickel, Tough Uncirculated Piece, ** Free Shipping!1872 Shield Nickel, Sharply Struck Choice Bu++/near Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!Gorgeous Extra Fine+/au Patina 1868 Shield Nickel Nickle 5c Coin Ccc Nr Auction!1868 Shield Nickel, Choice Bu++/near Gem Bu ** Free Shipping!1883 Shield Nickle Uncirculated Free Insured Shipping & Signature DeliveryLot Of Two 1882 Shield Nickles1882 Shield Nickel, Razor Sharp Gem Bu++ ** Free Shipping!1870 Sheild Nickel Us Coin - Cut In 2 Pcs - Friendship Nickel ?Gorgeous Extra Fine/au Details 1874 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin Ccc Nr AuctionGorgeous Extra Fine Xf Details 1867 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin Ccc Nr AuctionUs Coins Old 1870 Shield Nickel Five Cent 5c 1868 Shield Nickel On The End Of Mixed Buff & Early Jefferson Nickel Roll 83551883 Shield Nickel 5c High GradeNice Extra Fine/au Details 1873 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin Ccc Nr AuctionGorgeous Extra Fine Xf Details 1872 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin Ccc Nr Auction1868 & 1882 Lot Of (2) Shield Nickel 5c 5 Cents Group Take A Look1873 Shield Nickel - Hole FillerU.s 1883 Shield Nickel - Almost Uncirculated (see Pictures) 1866 Shield Nickel, Choice Au++/unc First Year Issue! ** With Rays! ** Free S/h!1867 5c Rays Shield Nickel1882 Shield Nickel Vf+ #11883Gorgeous Extra Fine/au Details 1868 Shield Nickel 5c Nickle Coin Ccc Nr AuctionExtra Fine+ To Au Details 1866 Rays Shield Nickel Nickle 5c Coin Ccc Nr Auction1867 Shield Nickel Without Rays(4) U.s. Shield Nickels: 1866 (with Rays), 1867, 1868, 1873 Business 5 Cents1869 Shield Nickel - Dark1875 Shield Nickel - Hole FillerCirculated 1882 Philadelphia Mint Shield Nickel Free Shipping1883 Shield Nickel, Choice Au++/unc Final Year Issue! ** Free Shipping!1867 No Rays Shield Nickel 5c Circulated Us Type Coin Variety1868 5 Cent Shield Nickel (f-ef) No Reserve, Nice Coin!!1867 Shield Nickel With Rays Vg1876 Shield Nickel! No Reserve!1866 Shield Nickel With Rays (567) Sharp Extra Fine Xf Details 1882 Shield Nickel Nickle 5c Coin Ccc Nr Auction1868 & 1870 Sheild Nickels Us Coin - Lot Of 2 Coins1869 Shield NickelProblem Free Original Extra Fine+/au 1869 Shield 5c Nickel Ccc Nr Auction!1868 Shield Nickel1867 1868 1869 1870 1872 1882 Shield Nickel Culls (e2)Extra Fine Cool Obv. Die Crack! 1867 Shield Nickel Nickle 5c Coin Ccc Nr Auction1866 Shield Nickle *free Shipping After First Item*1868 Shield Nickle Circulated1867 Shield Nickel - Dark1874 Shield Nickel - Hole Filler1868 U.s. Shield Nickel1868 Shield Nickel - Xf Details, Light Double Date - N.r1868 Shield Nickel 5c Icg Au 53