The Shield Nickel series began in 1866 as a new composition for the five cent piece. Until this point, five cent coins were minted as half dimes with a silver based composition. The Shield Nickel with a weight of five grams and composition of copper and nickel was authorized by the Act of May 16, 1866. The obverse of the coin features an ornate shield, similar to the one that had appeared on the two-cent piece. The reverse contained a large numeral five surrounded by stars with rays between the stars for 1866 and the early mintage of 1867.
The designer of the Shield Nickel was James B. Longacre. In 1883 the design was replaced with the Liberty Nickel design by Charles Barber.