Following the economic hardship and coin shortage of the Civil War, the US nickel coin was created as an easy-to-produce substitute for the five cent note. First minted in 1866 and still in circulation today, the nickel has featured four major redesigns. These shiny coins are not just mere currency, but a glimpse into America’s rich history and culture.
From classic Buffalo nickels to modern Jefferson nickels, L&C Coins’ selection of collectible nickels boasts a range of coins for both new and seasoned coin collectors. Explore our variety of nickels today and grow your collection.
A Look Back in Time: The History of the Nickel Coin
The nickel, one of the most recognizable and collectible coins in the US, has a rich and fascinating history. The need for a new five-cent coin arose in the mid-19th century following the Civil War when most American coins disappeared from circulation. At the time, the five-cent coin in circulation was the half-dime, which was made of silver and was becoming too expensive to produce following the Civil War’s economic devastation. In response to this, the US government (alongside nickel mining tycoon Joseph Wharton) decided to create a new five-cent coin made of cheaper metals — nickel and copper. This copper and nickel coin would be known simply as a nickel.
The first nickel was minted in 1866 and featured the Liberty Head design. It was widely accepted, and both circulating and collectible nickels have since become staples of American currency.
Shield Nickel (1866 - 1883)
The first nickel coin design was the shield nickel, designed by James B. Longacre. This design featured a simple yet elegant shield on the obverse and the denomination, "5 CENTS," surrounded by stars on the reverse. Longacre’s design was produced quickly before nickel production began and symbolizes the strength of a unified America.
Liberty Head or “V” Nickel (1883 - 1913)
Next came the Liberty Head nickel, designed by Mint Engraver Charles Barber alongside a new cent and three-cent piece which never made it to production. This collectible nickel’s obverse featured a profile of Lady Liberty facing right, with her hair styled in a bun and a coronet inscribed with the word "LIBERTY." The reverse side features a simple wreath with the Roman numeral V to indicate its 5-cent denomination.
Buffalo Nickel (1913 - 1938)
The Buffalo nickel was designed by James Earle Fraser as part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s desire to beautify US coinage. The reverse of the coin featured an American bison standing on a plain with the denomination "5 CENTS," while the obverse side of the nickel coin featured a right-facing profile of a Native American.
Jefferson Nickel (1938 - Present)
In 1938, the Jefferson nickel was introduced, featuring a profile of Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and his home, Monticello, on the reverse. Designed by Jamie Franki and Felix Schlag, the iconic design of the Jefferson nickel has remained virtually unchanged since its introduction, with only minor tweaks made over the years.
Circulation and Availability
The first nickel coins were minted in 1866, and since then, billions of nickels have been produced. Over the years, there have been a few notable production issues that have impacted the availability of collectible nickels, including changes in metal composition and production suspensions during periods of economic instability.
In 1922, 1932, and 1933, nickels were not minted due to decreased demand for coins during the Great Depression. One of the most notable production issues faced by the nickel was the change in metal composition during World War II. To conserve metal for the war effort, nickel was removed from the coin's composition, and it was instead made from an alloy of copper, silver, and manganese.
Despite these challenges, nickel coins have remained an essential part of everyday transactions in the United States and continue to circulate today.
Explore Rare and Valuable Pieces of History at L&C Coins
For nearly 50 years, L&C Coins has been helping fellow collectors grow their collections with confidence. Founded in 1974 by Lee Crane, our family-owned business offers a wide selection of coins at a range of price points so you can find what you’re looking for, no matter your budget.
Expand your collection today and take advantage of free shipping on standard orders, our 15-day return privilege, and up to 5-month layaway options at zero interest. Shop our trusted collection of quality classic coins and modern issues and get inspired in our new arrivals and box specials sections.
Have questions? Get in touch with one of our coin experts — we’re here to help
What are the rarest nickels?
Some of the rarest and most valuable collectible nickel coins in existence are the 1913 Liberty Head V Nickel (with only five specimens in confirmed existence), the 1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel – Doubled Die Obverse, and the 1926-S Buffalo Nickel. Other rare nickels include the 1867 Shield Nickel – Proof With Rays, the 1917-S Buffalo Nickel, and the 1920-D Buffalo Nickel.
What are nickel coins made out of?
Since 1866, nickels have been composed of cupronickel — 75% copper and 25% nickel. However, for a period lasting from mid-1942 to 1945, US “War Nickels” were composed of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese. This reduced the domestic use of nickel, which had become a critical military manufacturing material during World War II.
Can I sell my collectible nickel coins to L&C Coins?
Yes! Founded by avid coin collectors, L&C Coins has in-depth experience with coin valuation and the ever-changing coin market. We’re your go-to partners for selling your old and rare nickels. If you have questions about valuing or selling coins, message us online or speak with one of our coin experts by phone at 1-800-669-0953.