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1866 Shield Nickel with Rays

The Shield Nickel with rays was first minted in 1866 and about 14 million were produced before the rays version were discontinued in 1867. The rays were removed due to minting challenges. It has been said that new copper alloy was chosen for its durability and the ability to be produced without the use of precious metals. 

Since this version of the copper-nickel five-piece was changed in 1867, the 1867 version is rarer than the 1866. Only two million were minted in 1867 since production was halted. 1867s graded and in good condition may auction for a high price. Proof versions also appear in the market. One sold for over $55K in 2014 at the American Numismatic Association (ANA) World’s Fair of Money. 

Description of the Shield Nickel with Rays 

Obverse: This side features a shield that symbolizes strength and unity. The design was based on the two-cent piece

Reverse: The reverse includes the number five and thirteen stars with rays of sunlight between each star. It also depicts the words United States of American and cents. 

Nickel vs Half Dime 

While these coins both have a face value of five cents, there were years when they were both minted. As you can see, the half dime  (half disme) was smaller than the nickel. The modern dime is still smaller than a nickel. 

Besides the size, the biggest difference between the two is that the nickel does not contain silver. The modern version of the nickel uses the same alloy. 

 Half Dime Shield Nickel with Rays 
Composition 90% Silver, 10% Copper 75% Copper, 25% Nickel 
Years Minted 1794-1873 1866-1867 
Metal Content 0.0358 Troy Ounces 0 Troy Ounces 
Weight 1.34 Grams 5 Grams 
Value Five Cents Five Cents 
Mint Philadelphia Philadelphia 
Designer William Kneass James B. Longacre 
Thickness 1 mm 1.95 mm 
Diameter 15.5 mm 20.5 mm 
Chart comparing the Half Dime to the Shield Nickel. 

About the Designer: James B. Longacre 

James B. Longacre had a lengthy career. He was born in 1794 and started work as an artist, bookseller, and engraver when he was 12 years old. In 1844, he was appointed as the U.S. Mint’s Chief Engraver replacing Christian Gobrecht. He held this position until his death in 1869. 

Besides his coin designs he is known for his rendering of the images of Andrew Jackson, James Madison, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Boone. He is also known for creating exquisite banknotes. 

Notable Designs: 

  • Liberty Head (Braided Hair) Coins 
  • Indian Head Cent 
  • Schield Nickel (Rays and No Rays) 
  • Liberty Double Eagle 

The Mint: The Philadelphia Mint 

The Philadelphia Mint that was in operation when the Shield Nickel with Rays was minted was the Chestnut and Juniper streets location. The Philadelphia mint was the first mint operational within the U.S. and was established by the Coinage Act of 1792, which was signed by President George Washington. Currently, a state-of-the-art Philadelphia mint operates on North Independence Mall East, and it has been at that location since 1969. 

The 1866 Shield Nickel with rays may be a good coin to collect for those who have a limited budget but are interested in early American coinage since many where minted that year. More ambitious collectors may want to seek the rarer 1887 with Shield with rays version. 

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