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Nickel Coin History
The nickel coin has been an important part of American currency since 1866. The first nickel, known as the Shield nickel, was minted from 1866 to 1883. It featured a design of a shield with rays and stars above it on the front. The back had a large numeral “5” surrounded by thirteen stars representing the original colonies. This first nickel was made of a copper-nickel alloy.
In 1883, the Liberty Head nickel, also called the V nickel, replaced the Shield nickel. It featured a left-facing image of Lady Liberty wearing a coronet on the front. The back had a large Roman numeral “V” surrounded by patterns of stars. This nickel’s composition was changed to be 75% copper and 25% nickel.
The Liberty Head design was replaced in 1913 by the famous Buffalo nickel. It depicted a Native American chief on one side and an American bison on the other. This iconic design by James Earle Fraser remained on the nickel until 1938. It was the first circulating coin to feature an animal and an American Indian. The Buffalo nickel was made from the same copper-nickel alloy as its predecessor.
In 1938, the Jefferson nickel made its debut, replacing the Buffalo. This nickel featured President Thomas Jefferson on one side and his home at Monticello on the reverse. Initially, there were complaints about the plain design, but it grew in popularity over time. Since its introduction, Jefferson’s portrait has remained on the nickel, though the reverse design has gone through periodic changes.
Today the US nickel continues to be an important currency denomination. Current nickels are made from 75% copper and 25% nickel like their predecessors. The ubiquitous nickel has now been used in commerce for over 150 years, adapting to changing designs and compositions while remaining an iconic American coin.