The Shield Nickel was created in the aftermath of the Civil War. Two events occurred that made the coin necessary. First, the Civil War had caused hoarding of all silver and gold coins. Because of the lack of circulating coinage during the war, the government began issuing fractional currency to ensure that commerce could continue. Even after the Civil War, people were related to spend their "hard" money and the very unpopular fractional currency or "shinplasters" as they were called continued to circulate. As a result, the mint was searching for a way to get coinage back into circulation. The final impact was Joseph Wharton, the operator of a large nickel mining concern and a very influnincial person with members of Congress. He had been promoting the use of nickel in coinage for several years. Although the mint director, James Pollock, was initially opposed to using nickel in coinage because of the difficulty of producing coins from the very hard and brittle metal. He finally submitted to the public pressure to offer an alternative to the fractional currency and the private lobbing of the nickel mining industry.
The general type coin collector will normally obtain one example of the Shield Nickel.
For the specialized type coin collector two major varieties of the Shield Nickels were mined, one with rays on the reverse and one without. From 1866 until 1867 rays were used on the reverse of the coins to separate the 13 stars. During 1867 the rays were removed.
Nickel was very difficult for the mint to work with because of the hardness of the metal. The coins continuously broke dies and mint machinery. As a result, the Shield Nickels are often poorly wired. Coins with sharp details are much more difficult to find and are often sold for much more than the values listed in the various price guides.
Shield nickels were stuck only at the Philadelphia Mint, and more than 126 million were produced from 1866 until 1883. The two rareest dates are 1877 and 1878, when only proofs were produced. Among business strikes, the years 1879-1881 are low vintage dates and worth large premiums in all grades. There are two overdates: the proof 1879/8 and the 1883/2 business strike.
Proofs were stuck every year and include one of the most important 19th century rarities. Only 25 pieces are believed to have been stuck for the 1867 Shield Nickel with rays.
The Shield Nickel is primarily collected by type. Very few collectors will attempt a date collection. As a result, variances in mixture create only minor changes in value. Also, because of its status as minor coinage produced in a base metal its appeal is somewhat limited. Additional, the design is utilitarian at best hast not helped its collectability. As the charts show, prices are reliably stable until the highest graduated in both mint state and proofs are considered. This series is best described as a valuable part of a type collection and a stable investment that will move up and down in value with the coin market in general. Find more information about Shield Nickels at US Coin Facts