The first true United States Nickel appeared in 1866 when very few coins were circulating in America. At the time, two-cent and three-cent coins not containing any precious metals were successfully being issued and used by the nation, so Congress decided to release a five-cent coin as well. Composed of a mixture of 25% nickel and 75% copper, the Nickel Coin came after the five-cent paper note, which replaced the Half Dime Coin.
When the new five-cent coin was initially released in 1866, it featured a shield on the obverse. This first regular issue Nickel later became known as the Shield Nickel. The coin was struck until 1883 and replaced by the Liberty Nickel, a series that boasts one of the most elusive Rare Nickels ever produced by the United States Mint. When the Liberty Nickel series ended in 1931, the Buffalo Nickel was introduced and continued to be minted until 1938. After 25 years in production, the Buffalo design was dropped to make way for the Jefferson Nickel.
As various designs and varieties within each series were made over the years, there are plenty of Rare Nickels to be found. Like with all rare coins, some Rare Nickel issues are harder to obtain and a lot more expensive than the more commonly found dates.
For further advice on purchasing Rare Nickels, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Capital Gold Group. In the meantime, you can learn more about each of the Rare Nickel series’ from the following information provided by our experts.
Shield Nickels (1866–1883)
Introduced in 1866, the Shield Nickel was the first five-cent coin struck in nickel by the United States Mint. Several sketches were put forward for the coin and many patterns were developed. In the end, it was decided that the first ever Nickel should feature James Barton Longacre’s shield design, which was based on the two-cent coins in circulation at the time.
On the obverse of the Shield Nickel is a large shield with thin horizontal lines on the top half and thicker vertical lines across the lower half. A cross is displayed at the top of the shield, with two arrows poking out from behind towards the bottom. The inscription IN GOD WE TRUST is situated above the design and the date is shown below. This coin has a very simple reverse, with a large number 5 right in the center. The large number is encircled by thirteen stars, which are surrounded by the markings UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and CENTS.
Shield Nickels dated 1866 and some dated 1867 have rays between the stars on the reverse. As the rays were hard to strike, they were removed in 1867, meaning there are two reverse designs in the series. As the dies were only capable of producing a certain number of coins, the dies were continuously replaced, resulting in numerous minor varieties.
Liberty Nickels (1883–1913)
Often referred to as the Liberty Head Nickel or the V Nickel, the Liberty Nickel was designed by Charles E. Barber. It was first struck in 1883 and continued to be minted in large quantities until 1913. Having said that, no 1913 Liberty Nickels were officially produced but five specimens are known to exist. No one is sure why these coins were made; however, we do know that they are now among the most valuable coins in the whole world.
The obverse of the Liberty Nickel depicts the head of Lady Liberty, facing left. Her hair is pinned back and she is wearing a coronet inscribed LIBERTY. Thirteen stars surround the portrait and the date is displayed below. On the reverse is the Roman numeral V encircled by a large wreath. Two inscriptions are situated around the image including UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM.
After a number of Liberty Nickels were released in 1883, the reverse was changed. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM was moved above the wreath to make room for CENTS. This means there are two Rare Nickel varieties with different reverses dated 1883. The second design remained on the coin for the rest of the series.
Buffalo Nickels (1913–1938)
Otherwise known as the Indian Head Nickel, the Buffalo Nickel is one of the most cherished U.S. coins thanks to the all-American designs on the obverse and reverse. Minted for circulation between 1913 and 1938, the Buffalo Nickel is the creation of American sculptor James Earle Fraser.
The obverse shows a right-facing Native American, modelled after three well-known chiefs. On the right side of the coin, starting from the chief’s forehead is the inscription LIBERTY. The mintage year can be found on the truncation of the neck and the designers initial F is just below the date. On the reverse is a buffalo standing on a mound. Many people believe the image is based on Black Diamond, a buffalo that once resided in New York’s Central Park Zoo. FIVE CENTS is below the image, with E PLURIBUS UNUM above the animals back and below UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
There are actually two reverse designs from the Buffalo Nickel Series including the Type 1 and Type 2. This is because the overall relief had to be lowered in 1913 to better protect the inscriptions and design elements from wear.
Jefferson Nickels (1938–Present)
Most Americans will have seen a Jefferson Nickel at some time or another in their lives. Minted since 1938, the coin represents the longest ever running Nickel series in U.S. coinage history. Although the nation’s 3rd President has always been featured on the obverse, the obverse and reverse designs of the Jefferson Nickel have been changed a number of times over the years.
Designed by Felix O. Schlag, the original Jefferson Nickel displays our former President on the obverse, facing left. He is joined by the inscriptions LIBERTY on the right and IN GOD WE TRUST on the left, as well as the date. The original reverse design features Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. This image is situated in the center of the coin, with MONTICELLO underneath and FIVE CENTS below. Other reverse engravings include E PLURIBUS UNUM and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Both of the original designs remained on the Jefferson Nickel for more than 60 years, however, four variants followed between 2004 and 2005. Another obverse portrait of Jefferson designed by James Franki appeared in 2006 and can still be found on the coin today.
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