James B. Longacre, had begun preparing designs and pattern coins in 1865. After rejecting pieces showing deceased presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch decided on a design similar to Longacre's two-cent piece, with a shield on the obverse and a numeral 5 surrounded by stars and rays on the reverse. This has come to be known as the Shield nickel.
The copper-nickel five-cent piece was first introduced in 1866. It was issued to redeem and replace the unpopular five-cent paper notes, which were themselves replacements for the silver half dimes driven from circulation by the hoarding of all silver and gold coins after 1861. Though the public yearned for coins of silver and gold, they readily accepted the base-metal nickels as a temporary substitute. Of course, the half dime was discontinued in 1873, and the homely nickel remains to the present day, unchanged except for its imagery and for a slight increase in diameter beginning in 1883.
Shield Five Cents 1866-1883:
Designer: James Barton Longacre
Composition: 75% Copper, 25% Nickel
Weight: 1.94 g
Diameter: 20.50 mm
Two different design variations
Type 1, With Rays (1866-1867)
Type 2, No Rays (1867-1883) (1913-1938)