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Minted from 1866 to date
The first true NICKEL was struck in 1866, just after the Civil War. The composition of the coin, surprising to many, is 75% copper and only 25% nickel.
Shield Nickel: Minted from 1866 to 1883. In 1866, there was only one reverse design, which had rays between the stars. This same reverse was used for the first part of 1867, but the rays were removed from the design later in the year. This latter design was in use for the rest of the series.
Liberty Nickel: Minted from 1883 to 1912. In the first year of issue, the designers of the coin failed to spell out the denomination, believing that the -V- on the reverse was adequate to denote the value (-V- representing -5- in Roman numerals). The public likely understood that this was a nickel and needed no more than that. Unfortunately, the designers did not consider the unscrupulous persons who would recognize the similarity of this new nickel to the $5.00 gold piece. The nickels were often gold-plated and successfully passed as a gold piece. The government redesigned the reverse to include the word -CENTS- under the V, and this design was used until the end of the series. All Liberty Nickels were struck at Philadelphia until the last year, 1912, when coins were struck at Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco.
Buffalo or Indian Head Nickel: Minted from 1913 to 1938. The obverse depicts the bust of an Indian, and the reverse a buffalo or bison. First struck in 1913, the buffalo was on a mound. Later in the year, the reverse was re-designed to lower the relief of the design and the buffalo was put on a plain. This reverse continued to the end of the series.
Jefferson Nickel: Minted 1938 to date. The obverse depicts a bust of Thomas Jefferson and the reverse the Jefferson Memorial. Late in 1942 through 1945, due to the need primarily for nickel for the war effort, the alloy was changed to exclude nickel but to include silver. A large mintmark was placed on the reverse above the Jefferson Memorial to indicate a change in composition. This was the first time that a -P- mintmark was placed on a U.S. coin. In 2004 and 2005, a series of design changes occurred titled the "Western Journey" to celebrate the Lewis and Clark Expedition that took place 100 years earlier. The updated version of the bust of Jefferson has been retained to date.