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5 cent Nickle
Shield Five Cent 1866 - 1883
The nickel five-cent piece was originally proposed to weigh 3.88 grams and be composed
of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The House Coinage Committee wanted the new coin‘s weight
to be expressed in grams but would not publicly say so, and while four grams was the
next metric weight, this was passed over, and five grams was the weight used. But still
unwilling to express the weight as five grams, the enabling legislation required the
coin weigh 77.16 grains (the English equivalent of five grams)!
Designer: James B. Longacre
Content: 75% copper 25% nickel
Diameter: 20.5 millimeters
Weight: 5 grams
Mint Mark Location: No mint-marks (all coins were minted in Philadelphia)
|Year/ Mint Mark||Circulation Strikes|
1866 Shield Five Cent Coin
Type 1 With Rays
As Chief Engraver it fell to James Longacre to design the new coin. Several patterns were created, the most
interesting ones featured profiles of Washington or Lincoln. Unfortunatly, the issue of portraying actual
persons on coinage was a matter for great debate. In this round of debate, the opponents won. Unable to
use Washington or Lincolns portrait, Longacre modified a motif he had used earlier on the two-cent coin.
The modified design had a certain geometric balance, but it is artistically quite weak.
1867 Shield Five Cent Coin
Type 2 W/O Rays (1867 only)
Initally, the reverse was controversial. The central device shows a large numeral 5 and is
surrounded by thirteen stars with thirteen sets of rays between the stars. Suprisingly,
some citizens believed Southern sympathizers had infiltrated the Mint and placed the Confederate
“Stars and Bars” on the reverse. Dispite objections, the rays were retained on the reverse the
first two years of issue. Early in 1867 the rays were eliminated. This was because Mint
officials believed the rays prevented the coins from striking completely.
Shield nickels were struck only at the Philadelphia Mint from 1866 until the design change
in 1883. This short-lived series has a surprising number of rarities. The two key issues are
from 1877 and 1878, when only proofs were struck. Business strikes for the years 1879 - 1881
were low mintage and command large premiums in all grades. There are two overdates, the
1879/8 an overdated proof and the 1883/2.
In 1883 the Shield nickel was replaced by Charles Barber’s new Greco-Roman Liberty
head. However, the Shield nickel was the first nickel five-cent piece. While the
design was origionally intended to be temporary, it has changed several times since
1866, but the basic 5-gram “nickel” has remained a mainstay of our coinage system.
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U.S. Shield Nickels