The Shield Nickel

The Shield Nickel first appeared in the year 1866 – the same year when the Seated Liberty Half Dime was still in circulation. It was truly an unusual event wherein two coins of the same denomination were issued. However, the Shield Nickel was made up of 75% Copper and 25% Nickel while the Seated Liberty Half Dime was composed of 90% Silver and 10% Copper.

The Shield Nickel was created because the United States needed a small change in circulation. This is after coin hoarding became an issue – wherein the shortage of coins was caused after citizens started collecting coins even before the American Civil War. The reason? Since coins in circulated during that time were made up of precious metals, the public took an interest in them.

James Pollock, the US Mint Director at that time used to oppose the idea of minting nickel coins because of the issues the Mint has to face when striking and creating the coins. Also, he was aware that Joseph Wharton, owner and chief stockholder of the largest US nickel mine had many friends and supporter in the Congress. He has been using his connections to pursue metal in the minting of US coins.

However, all changed when he finally accepted the need to create a new five-cent coin made out of nickel. Pollock then assigned the James Longacre to create the design of the new five-cent coin since he was already the US Mint Chief Engraver at that time.

Longacre was unable to use a portrait in the new nickel coin due to some issues, so he opted to use a motif he created and used earlier on a two-cent coin after modifying its design. The Obverse features a shield that has a wreath on both sides and the Order of Calatrava’s cross above it. This is the reason why the new five-cent coin was called the Shield Five Cents. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST is placed above the cross and the date just below the shield.

As for the reverse, a large number 5 is seen on the center is being surrounded by 13 stars, each star having a ray of the sun in between. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA placed in a form of an arc on top and CENTS below. The coin is made up of 75% Copper and 25% Nickel. It has a plain edge, is 20.50 millimeters and weighs about 1.94 grams.

As expected, the new five-cent coin was rarely well-struck and many dies broke during the process. The Shield Nickel with the rays on the reverse was minted from 1866-1867 and came to be the Type 1 Shield Nickel.

After the Type Shield Nickel was terminated, a new Shield Nickel was born minus the rays on the reverse to solve the problem. The Type 2 Shield Nickel was first minted early in 1867. Both types were minted only at the US Mint located in Philadelphia. The Type 2 Shield Nickel only lasted up until 1883, then the design was replaced and the 1883 Liberty Nickel was born.

The Two Types of the Shield Nickel (Varieties and Mintages)

Type 1 Shield Nickel With Rays

US Mint (coin), National Numismatic Collection (photograph by Jaclyn Nash), NNC-US-1866-5C-Shield Nickel (rays), size by Bonnie Mattie, CC BY-SA 4.0

Minted from 1866-1867 only, it was the original design made by James Barton Longacre. The Obverse features a shield that has the Order of Calatrava’s cross above the shield and wreaths on each side. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST is placed above the cross and the date just below the shield.

The reverse has a much simpler design. A big number 5 is in the middle of the coin. A series of 13 stars with 13 rays in between encircles the number 5 while UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and CENTS place above and below the reverse respectively. All were struck in Philadelphia Mint.

Regular Strike

1866 Shield Nickel With Rays – 14,742,500 pieces were struck in Philadelphia

1867 Shield Nickel With Rays – 2,019,000 pieces were struck in Philadelphia

Proofs

1866 Shield Nickel With Rays – 600 pieces were struck in Philadelphia

1867 Shield Nickel With Rays- 60 pieces were struck in Philadelphia

Type 2 Shield Nickel With No Rays

US Mint (coin), National Numismatic Collection (photograph by Jaclyn Nash), NNC-US-1873-5C-Shield Nickel (stars), size by Bonnie Mattie, CC BY-SA 4.0

The second type of the Shield Nickel was first minted in 1867 and until 1883. The new design no longer has the rays in between the stars found at the back of the coin. This is to help prevent the coin dies from breaking prematurely, since striking the rays only added pressure on the dies.

The obverse is still the same, while the only elements that were not included in the Type 2 Shield Nickel were the rays in the reverse.

Regular Strike

1867 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 28,890,500 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1868 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 28,817,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1869 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 16,395,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1870 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 4,806,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1871 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 561,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1872 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 6,036,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1873 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 4,550,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

  •    1873 Open 3
  •    1873 Closed 3

1874 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 3,538,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1875 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 2,097,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1876 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 2,530,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1879 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 25,900 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1880 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 16,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1881 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 68,800 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1882 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 11,472,900 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1883 Shield Nickel With No Rays – 1,451,500 pieces minted in Philadelphia

  •    1883/2

Proofs

1867 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof- 600 pieces minted in Philadelphia

  •    1867 Pattern Reverse

1868 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 600 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1869 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 600 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1870 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 1,000 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1871 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 960 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1872 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 950 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1873 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof- 1,100 pieces minted in Philadelphia

  •    1873 Closed 3 Proof

1874 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 700 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1875 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 700 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1876 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 1,150 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1877 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 510 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1878 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 2,350 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1879 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 3,200 pieces minted in Philadelphia

  •    1879/8 Proof

1880 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 3,955 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1881 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 3,575 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1882 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 3,100 pieces minted in Philadelphia

1883 Shield Nickel With No Rays Proof – 5,419 pieces minted in Philadelphia

Collecting Shield Nickel Coins

It may come as a surprise among coin collectors that even if the minting of the Shield Nickel coin was only for a short period of time, still, there are notable rarities. Those dated in 1866 and 1873 have interesting varieties. There were two overdates – 1879/8 and 1883/2. The key dates are those dated in 1877 and 1878 since only proof coins were minted. As for 1867 With Rays Proof Shield Nickel, is the most sought-after among collectors since very little was known to be struck.

When collecting Shield Nickels, the areas to check for signs of wear would be on the leaves and cross on the obverse and the number 5 at the back of the coin. These are often collected by type and date coin collectors. For type collectors, one would need to obtain each of the Shield Nickel with and without no rays. As for collecting it by date, it proves to be a much more a challenging task.

One can buy PCGS-graded Shield Nickels starting at $13.00 up to $53,000.00 for regular strikes and $1,100-$75,000.00.

References:

PCGS, PCGS CoinFacts, NGC Coin, Coin Study, My Coin Guides