The First Nickel Not Made of Silver – Shield Nickels
The Shield Nickel is the first five-cent coin issued by the United States that was not made of silver. The US Mint first issued silver half dimes back in 1794. Silver Half Dimes were struck from that date until 1873. But the Shield Nickel was struck out of copper and nickel. It was designed by James B. Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the US mint in 1866. Longacre based his design on the reasonably successful Two Cent Piece he also designed in 1864.
Now that the Civil War was a very recent memory, Longacre wanted a coin that would symbolize American unity. He chose to take elements from his Two Cent piece and incorporate them here. He needed a quick design and the Two Cent piece provided one.
Longacre redirected the two upwards pointing arrows behind the Two Cent piece shield to now become two downward pointing arrows behind the shield. He also removed the scroll above the shield on the Two Cent piece and added those same words (IN GOD WE TRUST) on the scroll now as a motto above this modified shield. He also added a cross to the top of the shield to honor the dead on both sides of the Civil War. Although Longacre also created a pattern for the Shield Nickel that displays an obverse portrait of recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. While there was a drumbeat in the North to honor the slain President, Treasury officials felt that the coin would not be welcomed in the South and that it would reopen very fresh wounds. It was not shown to the Treasury Secretary so there could not be any official consideration of the design.
Longacre’s obverse design is “one of the most patriotic motifs in American coinage” as described by Q. David Bowers. It is based on the coat of arms of the Great Seal of the United States.
The reverse depicted the numeral “5” in the center surrounded by 13 stars and between each star was a ray design. Above the stars were the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and the word “CENTS” was at the bottom under the numeral.
The coins were hard to fully strike up due to the design and the fact that the copper-nickel metal mix was harder caused the dies to begin to break down that much more quickly. In 1867 the reverse was redesigned to eliminate the rays which the hope was to making the coins easier to strike. But the with rays design also reminded some of the Southern “Stars and Bars” and that was totally unacceptable just two short years after the war had ended.
The first year, 1866, produced 14,742,500 coins with the rays reverse. The next year, 1867, only 2,019,000 coins were struck with the rays reverse and 28,890,500 coins were struck with the new modified ‘no rays’ reverse.
From 1868 to 1870, the mintages rapidly declined from nearly 29 million down to 4.8 million coins struck. In 1871 only 561,000 were struck as there was a glut of them on the market. From 1872 until 1876, from a high of 6 million to a low of 436 thousand coins were minted. But 1873, as with numerous other denominations of United States coins saw a “close 3” and an ”open 3” as major varieties. That was, however, the last year for the production of the silver Half Dime, so the nickel was not the only coin denomination between the three-cent piece and the dime.
Both 1877 and 1878 were proof coins only years with 800 and 2,350 struck respectively. The year 1879 had a normal date and a scarce 1879 over 8 overdate. 1880 saw only 16,000 coins struck and is pretty rare. In 1881 68,800 coins were minted. 1882 was the largest production year since 1869 with 11,472,800 coins produced. The final year, 1883, saw a normal date and an overdate 1882/3 and there were 1,451,500 coins struck.
|Date||Type||Mintage||Fine Value||Unc Value|
|1866 Rays||Shield Nickel||14,742,500||$65||$450|
|1866 Repunched Date||Shield Nickel||Included||$200||$1,750|
|1867 Rays||Shield Nickel||2,019,000||$85||$650|
|1867 No Rays||Shield Nickel||28,890,500||$50||$250|
|1867 No Rays||Shield Nickel Pattern Rev||Included||$2,500||$7,500|
|1868 to 1870||Shield Nickels||28,817,000 to 4,806,000||$70||$375|
|1872 to 1874||Shield Nickels||6,036,000 to 436,050||$85||$600|
|1875 to 1876||Shield Nickels||2,530,000 to 2,097,000||$125||$400|
|1877||Shield Nickel||900 Proofs||$2,000||$3,750|
|1878||Shield Nickel||2,359 Proofs||$750||$1,500|
|1879 / 8||Shield Nickel||Included||$500||$900|
|1882 to 1883||Shield Nickels||11,472,900 & 1,451,500||$50||$250|
|1883/2||Shield Nickel||Overdate Included||$750||$3,000|
Browse our selection of rare coins and add 1868-1883 Shield Nickels from to your collection today.