Shield Nickels

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The United States Shield Nickel, often referred to as the Shield 5-cent piece, holds a unique place in the annals of American numismatics. It was a coin that symbolized a shift in the United States’ currency system, introducing a new era of coinage. Let’s delve deeper into the fascinating history and intricate details of this iconic coin.

The Shield Nickel was unveiled to the American public in 1866. James B. Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, was the creative mind behind its design. Unlike its predecessor, the Half Dime, the Shield Nickel was an entirely new concept. It marked the United States’ first foray into creating a five-cent coin made entirely of nickel. This change was necessitated by a combination of factors, primarily related to the practicality and economy of coin production.

The Half Dime, the coin that the Shield Nickel replaced, had been in circulation for many years. However, it had its drawbacks. The Half Dime was composed of silver, making it subject to the fluctuating value of this precious metal. As silver prices rose, the intrinsic value of the coin exceeded its face value, leading to hoarding and melting for bullion purposes. Additionally, the small size of the Half Dime made it challenging to handle, and it was prone to getting lost.

James Longacre’s innovative design featured a central shield on the obverse and a wreath on the reverse. The central shield was a patriotic emblem, consisting of a Union shield, arrows, and stars. The design exuded a sense of unity and strength, reflecting the nation’s post-Civil War era.

This new coin was not only a departure from the earlier silver composition but was also physically larger and thicker, addressing the practicality issues of the Half Dime. The Shield Nickel was easier to handle and less likely to slip through fingers or get lost, making it a more practical choice for everyday transactions.

However, the design of the Shield Nickel was not static during its production years. In 1867, a minor modification was made, removing the rays that initially emanated between the stars on the obverse. This alteration was made to simplify the coin’s design and production process.