Guide to Nickels Values
Postage prices made three-cent pieces a popular circulating coin, but the Silver ones were hoarded, leading to a nickel replacement. Read More
Nickel coins were struck due to mining interests pushing for a base metal coin, and early returns were successful. The Shield design circulated well enough as a proof of concept for more. Read More
The Buffalo nickel is one of the most iconic pieces of American coinage. Read More
Felix Schlag's iconic Jefferson design won in a competition against 390 other artists and established a theme of portrait coinage in the U.S. Read More
Nickels began with a fundamental change in philosophy by the U.S. Mint: for the first time, they were making coins with denominations not tied to the value of the metal in the coin. Base metal coinage as opposed to Precious or semi-Precious Metals was a new idea, supported by paper currency and the circulation of base metal tokens from private mints as older government coinage was hoarded during the Civil War.
The half dime was a five-cent piece as well, but it was struck from Silver. It was struck from 1794 to 1805 with a few dates missing and then resumed from 1829 through 1873, and it overshadowed the nickel in western states through the end of the 19th century. In other areas of the United States, though, the nickel began to supplant it after an initial period where nickels had limited circulation.
The nickel’s acceptance paved the way for the base metal coinage we see today, and the 75% nickel, 25% Copper composition of the original nickel has continued to the present day. This composition is hard on dies and presses due to the increased hardness of the metal compared to most coin metals, but this has become less of an issue with time than it was when cupro-nickel coinage was first instituted.
The three-cent nickel was struck from 1865 to 1889. The initial year had good circulation, but when the five-cent nickel was introduced in 1866 it pushed out the three-cent coin. Most of the mintages after the first five years were low and many three-cent nickels were melted to create the more popular five-cent nickel. Prices remain relatively low despite this except for key dates and high conditions.
Shield nickels were the first style of five-cent nickels created. The initial success of the three-cent nickel in 1865 led to the establishment of this issue in 1866, but it had to be created quickly. The design was adapted from the two-cent coin and widely criticized at the time, leading to its retirement in 1883. Collectors prize it now because of its history.
The Liberty nickel, also known as the V nickel for its reverse design, superseded the Shield in 1883 and was struck till 1913. The front became a Liberty head, while the back had a Roman numeral five. This design was more successful than the shield and there are several coveted key dates from this series for collectors.
The Buffalo or Indian Head nickel was struck from 1913 to 1938. This coin had a Native American man in profile on the obverse and a bison on the reverse and was designed by the sculptor James Earle Fraser. It swiftly became one of the most iconic American coins. Because of both the hardness of the planchet and the intricacy of the design, these coins were difficult to strike — branch mint issues tend to be badly struck, which led to errors like the famous “three-legged buffalo”. The early issues had issues with wear that were solved later by slight changes to the design.
The Jefferson nickel came next, with Jefferson’s head on the obverse and Monticello on the reverse. This design lasted from 1938 to 2003. This issue is distinguished by having a wartime version from 1942 to 1945 that was made of a 35% Silver alloy instead of the original cupro-nickel. The cupro-nickel original composition coin is still very common in pocket change today.
The modern Jefferson nickel changed in 2004, with the obverse using the old Jefferson profile head but the reverse having unique designs inspired by the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the journey of Lewis and Clark. In 2005, the coin got a new obverse portrait and new reverses. Then in 2006, the nickel returned to the old Monticello reverse, but changed the portrait to its current version.
Several nickels are commonly collected. Many numismatists got their start with the Buffalo nickel, which has some unique and uncommon errors. The Liberty nickel also has some key dates that go for a high premium, including the 1913 issue that never saw circulation with only five known in existence.
There is a wide gap in value between the top and bottom ends of nickel collecting as well as a number of errors and small mintages, which makes it a great place for beginner collectors to start as well as an attractive series for high-end numismatists.
The Price Guide
The PCGS Price Guide prices apply only to PCGS-graded coins. The PCGS Price Guide is a guide to assist the coin buying public in determining values for all important United States rare coins. The prices listed in the PCGS Price Guide are average dealer asking prices for PCGS-graded coins. The prices are compiled from various sources including dealer ads in trade papers, dealer fixed price lists and website offerings, significant auctions, and activity at major coin shows.Learn More