The Shield Nickel is the first five cent coin issued by the United States that did not contain any silver. It was designed by James B. Longacre, the Chief Engraver of the US mint in 1866. Longacre based his design on the successful Two Cent Piece he also designed in 1864.
Longacre wanted a coin symbolizing the unity now of the formerly Northern and Southern states. He took elements from his Two Cent piece and incorporated them into this coin design.
As its name implies, the obverse is dominated by a large American shield, with IN GOD WE TRUST and the date. The reverse had a large numeral 5 in the center surrounded by 13 six-pointed stars, with the sun’s rays between the stars. Above the stars were the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and the word “CENTS” was at the bottom under the numeral.
First struck in 1866, the coin was hard to strike up and display all of the detail. By 1867, the coin was redesigned part way through the year to eliminate the rays to make striking easier. As with other non-silver coins, they were welcomed after the Civil War, but as coins became more plentiful, their lack of silver lead to a lack of interest.
Mintages dropped off considerably by the 1870s and the last two years – 1877 and 1878 – saw only Proof coins for collectors struck by the Mint.