Before 1866 the coins the United States made as a five -cent piece
were called Half Dimes and they were made of silver. That
year saw us start the production of five-cent pieces from a different
metal; a metal whose name we took for the coin itself - nickel. Our
first Nickel Five-Cent Piece was the Shield Type and it was made from
1866-1883. The Shield Nickel was designed by James Longacre and some
say the design was so popular because it reflected the emotions of
the country following the Civil War in seeing the Federal Union as a
shield of Liberty. It saw several small changes/varieties from its
first year of production but is still admired for its pleasing
Good reference works for those more interested in this type of coin are The Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins by Walter Breen and The Shield Five Cent Series by Edward Fletcher, Jr.
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