With the limited success of the Three Cent Nickel in 1865, the US Mint sought to replace the silver Half Dime coins. The denomination was becoming too insignificant for commercial use, and they wanted to reserve the silver for larger denomination coins. The first nickels were called Shield Nickels due to the prominent shield on the obverse of the coin. The reverse of the coin had a numeral “5” surrounded by 13 six-pointed stars. They were struck until 1883 and there were two years – 1877 and 1878 – in which coins were struck only in Proof condition for collectors. Assembling a complete set of Shield Nickels is certainly a worthy challenge.
The Shield Nickel was followed, in 1883, by the Liberty Head or “V” Nickel. It is called that due to the allegorical head of Miss Liberty on the obverse and the Roman numeral for “FIVE” – a “V” - on the reverse. Through 1883, the first five million coins were struck without the word “CENTS” on the reverse, leading some enterprising charlatans to gold-plate the coins in an attempt to pass them as Five Dollar gold coins. This series was struck until 1913, which is the rarest date of all. Only five 1913 Liberty Nickels are known to exist making it one of the rarest and most valuable coins in US history.
By 1913, the US Mint was directed to change the design of our coinage. President Theodore Roosevelt had created the desire to re-model our coinage to be as beautiful as that of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Although Roosevelt was no longer President, he succeeded in his wishes for a renewed coinage and the renowned sculptor James Earle Fraser designed the new nickel coin. He wanted the coin to display iconic American ideals, so the obverse depicted an American Indian and the reverse depicted an American Bison. These coins were struck between 1913 and 1938 and remain one of the most popular American coins of all time.
As 1938 approached, more than 25 years of striking the Buffalo Nickel had passed so a new design could be implemented. Felix Schlag designed a coin with a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and his home, Monticello, on the reverse. These coins are minted even today, more than seventy years after their initial striking in 1938. The designs remained unchanged until 2004 when Schlag’s obverse and a new obverse design were implemented to compliment multiple new reverse designs to commemorate our Westward migration. In 2006 the obverse design reflected a new portrait of Jefferson coupled with the Monticello reverse once again.