The U.S. nickel, a five-cent coin still in circulation today, may be better known to bear the former U.S. face. President Jefferson. Nevertheless, there are several different types of nickels that numismatists collect — and not all of them are alike. Nickels were minted in the United States for the first time in 1866, and almost all were initially made from silver and gold. Roughly 30 million nickels were issued from 1867 to 1868, and for its convenience, the coin became wildly popular.
Rare nickels are now experiencing renewed demand among collectors, and while many of the most popular are no longer in circulation, they can be found in auctions, land sales, yard sales, and antique stores. Learn how to calculate the value of rare nickels, the main dates and series to be looked for on the market, and determine the value of nickel-based on its price and condition.
A Brief History
The nickel’s history dates back to the US Civil War. As the Southern states started to secede from the Union in 1861, and the Civil War was raging, America and its currency were in turmoil. Widespread panic has led to the hoarding of capital, especially valuable metals such as gold and silver. Coins nearly vanished overnight, and the Mint did not have enough gold and silver capital to keep up with demand. Without coinage, underlying day-to-day transactions such as purchasing groceries and sending mail became unlikely.
It took months for precious metals to file back into circulation after the war ended in 1865. However, war production had increased America’s manufacturing potential, and more significant quantities of common metals such as nickel were readily available. Since nickel was not a precious metal, there was little point in hoarding it on men. In 1866 President Andrew Johnson signed a bill authorizing the coinage of nickel and copper consisting of five-cent parts.
Decorated with a shield, a prominent “5” surrounded by a star and ray pattern, this new coin featured the words “In God We Trust.” This nickel “shield” was manufactured from 1866 until 1883. The government produced fifteen million five-cent nickels the same year, more than 100 times the amount of silver half-dimes produced in the year prior.
The Shield nickel was replaced by what is known as the “Liberty Head” because of production difficulties. However, a range of new prototypes appeared in the decades that followed. The Buffalo nickel was invented in 1913, among others like the 1936 buffalo nickel, followed by the first nickel produced by Jefferson in 1938. The last update to this occurred in 2006 when the portrayal of President Jefferson changed from a profile to a frontal portrait. The advent of coin-operated devices such as vending machines and jukeboxes further solidified the nickel as an essential coin.