Shield Nickel Design
After the creation of the Nickel was sanctioned in 1866, United States Mint Chief Engraver James Longacre was pressed to conceive a design for the coin in great haste. Because of his limited time, Longacre decided to adapt the design of the circulating two-cent piece to suit the new five-cent coin. The artwork on the Shield Nickel was altered slightly, so it is not identical to the two-cent coin’s design. Though Longacre proposed other more elaborate designs, Treasury Secretary Hugh McCullough decided the shield design was perfect for the obverse, while the reverse featured a simpler design showcasing the five-cent face value and what appeared to be sun rays. Though simple in design, the images on the Shield Nickel are quite patriotic. The shield is a gentle derivation of the Great Seal of the United States and stands as a representation of strength. The arrows crossed behind the shield do not represent aggression, but a willingness to defend the nation we love. Finally, the laurel branches are an ancient Greek symbol of victory.
As soon as the Shield Nickels went into production, it became obvious there were flaws in the process. The nickel planchets used to make the coins were tougher than what the mint machinery had previously handled, and as such, the five-cent piece dies wore down too quickly. The coin’s design, while admired today, was criticized during production. These problems and criticisms help explain why the Shield Nickel circulated for fewer than 20 years.