What is the diameter of a nickel? If you’ve ever closely examined the coins jangling around in your pocket or rattling in your change purse, you may have noticed that the nickel stands out from the rest.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the diameter of a nickel is 21.21 mm or 0.835 inches.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you ever wanted to know about the size of America’s 5-cent piece. In this article, you’ll learn about the nickel’s current and historical dimensions, how its size compares to other coins, why it’s shaped the way it is, and more.

The Nickel’s Current Dimensions


The current diameter of a nickel coin in the United States is 21.21 mm (0.835 inches). This measurement has remained consistent since 1866, when the Shield nickel was first minted with a diameter of 20 mm.

When the coin’s design changed in 1913 to feature the profile of President Thomas Jefferson, its diameter was slightly increased to its current size.


The thickness of a nickel has also remained steady over the years at 1.95 mm (0.077 inches). This uniform dimension ensures all nickels stack properly and work in vending machines or coin slots. Nickels feature smooth, unneeded edges.


As mentioned above, nickels have smooth edges without reeding (the small ridges around the circumference of some coins). This distinguishes them from quarters, dimes, and half dollars, which have periodic ridges or grooves around the edges. The nickel’s plain edge gives it a simple, clean look.


The weight of a nickel has been 5.0 grams since 1866. Each coin contains 75% copper and 25% nickel, giving it some heft without being too heavy. This standard weight makes nickels easily recognizable in transactions.

Interestingly, during World War II the nickel’s composition changed to include silver, however, the 5 grams weight remained the same through 1942-1945. But after the war ended, nickels returned to their traditional copper-nickel mix and weight.

This consistency has enabled smooth use and acceptance of nickels for over 150 years since then!

How the Nickel’s Size Has Changed Over Time

The Early Nickel (1866-1942)

The first nickel, known as the Shield nickel, was minted in 1866. It had a diameter of 20mm and was made of copper-nickel alloy. This original composition gave the coins their nickname of “nickels”. The coins featured a shield representing the United States on the front and the Roman numeral “V” on the back, indicating their five-cent value.

Over the years, there were minor tweaks to the nickel’s design, but the size remained consistent at 20mm diameter and 5 grams weight during this early period from 1866 until 1942.

The Wartime Nickel (1942-1945)

In 1942, the composition of the nickel changed as copper became critical to the World War II war effort. The mint replaced the copper in the alloy with silver, giving birth to the silver “wartime nickel”. However, the diameter remained unchanged at 20mm despite the change in metals.

Interestingly, the treasury department asked the public to help conserve nickels and only spend them on necessary items during the war. This likely contributed to 90% of minted nickels in 1943 being returned to banks rather than circulating freely.

The Modern Nickel (1946-Today)

After the war ended in 1945, the composition changed back to copper-nickel alloy in 1946. The size standardized at a consistent 21.21 mm diameter and 5 grams weight which persists today. This slight increase accommodated design changes to Jefferson’s portrait on the obverse of the coin.

The current nickel has kept the same dimensions since 1946 to enable vending machines and other devices designed around these specifications to function properly with new coins. Collectors can still find some wartime silver nickels in circulation today mixed among their modern copper-nickel counterparts.

How the Nickel Compares To Other Coins

The Penny

At 19.05mm in diameter, the ubiquitous penny is the smallest coin in circulation. In comparison to the 21.21mm nickel, the penny is significantly more compact. However, what the penny lacks in size, it makes up for in quantity – with over 300 billion minted since 1787, it is the most abundant coin used today.

The penny gets its name from the medieval British coin originally worth 1/240 of a pound sterling. First minted in bronze, and later zinc with a copper coating, the penny has always been associated with affordable prices.

Just as you could buy trivial items for a penny centuries ago, a single cent retains strong symbolic ties to small valuables today.

The Dime

Slightly larger than a penny at 17.91 mm across, the dime is the United States smallest denomination coin in circulation. Its size makes it useful for vending machines, parking meters, and retail transactions involving small amounts.

Despite its diminutive dimensions, the dime’s name comes from the Latin word “decima,” meaning one-tenth. This refers to the dime’s original value of 1/10th of a dollar. The very first dimes contained almost 90% silver when introduced in 1796.

Today’s dimes have an exterior clad copper and nickel layer with a pure copper core.

The Quarter

America’s workhorse coin, the quarter towers over the nickel at 24.26mm in width. Worth 25 cents since its first minting in 1796, the quarter derives its name from being 1/4th of a dollar. With over half a trillion struck since then, quarters are ubiquitous in cash transactions.

The quarter’s large size makes it easy to handle, while its ridged side gives it a distinctive feel. The classic quarter has featured George Washington on the front since 1932. With state commemorative and America the Beautiful series, its reverse face frequently changes to honor different states and national parks.

Coin Name Diameter Composition
Penny 19.05 mm 97.5% zinc, 2.5% copper plating
Nickel 21.21 mm 75% copper, 25% nickel
Dime 17.91 mm Outer clad layer – 75% copper, 25% nickel
Inner core – 100% copper
Quarter 24.26 mm Outer clad layer – 75% copper, 25% nickel
Inner core – 100% copper

As we can see, the nickel falls in the middle ground of circulating coin sizes. Smaller than a quarter but larger than a dime and penny, the nickel strikes a useful balance – literally and figuratively – for everyday cash transactions.

To learn more about coin specifications and details, visit the U.S. Mint’s circulating coins overview.

Why the Nickel is Shaped The Way It Is

The current nickel design, featuring Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and Monticello on the reverse, dates back to 1938. But even before that, most nickels minted in the United States shared the same dimensional specifications we see today.

There are a few key reasons why the nickel is shaped and sized the way it is:

Ease of Production

The nickel is rather thick relative to its diameter. This shape lends itself well to the coin blanking and minting processes. The thickness allows the raised designs and lettering to be stamped more easily and cleanly onto the coin.

Differentiation From Other Coins

The distinct shape and size help the nickel stand out from other coins in circulation. For example, it is much thicker than the dime and penny. Its smooth edges easily distinguish it from the ribbed edges of the quarter. The specific dimensions make the nickel easy to recognize by sight and touch.

Weight and Value Considerations

The size and 75% copper/25% nickel composition give the five-cent coin an ideal heft and intrinsic value relative to its denomination. This helps ensure the coin stays in circulation, as its material value basically aligns with its monetary value.

Long History and Tradition

Since their introduction in 1866, five-cent coins minted in the United States have almost always been composed of the same copper-nickel alloy. The 21.21 mm diameter and 1.95 mm thickness specifications have been largely consistent since 1913 as well.

At this point, the distinctive shape and weight of the nickel are well ingrained in the minds of the public.

In short, the familiar dimensions make nickels easy to recognize and use as currency, while still allowing for the intricate, raised surface designs that make coins unique and collectible.

Fun Facts About the Nickel’s Dimensions

The United States five-cent coin, known as the “nickel,” has been around since 1866. Over the years, there have been some interesting facts related to its dimensions that are worth highlighting.

The Nickel’s Diameter Matches Its Value

One fascinating aspect of the nickel is that its diameter almost precisely matches its monetary value in millimeters. According to the United States Mint, the diameter of a nickel is 21.21 mm. When converted, this equals roughly 0.05 inches – the exact worth of a nickel.

This pattern is not a coincidence. The diameter proportions were specifically chosen so that the size of each coin corresponds to its financial value. It’s a creative way to make each coin easily identifiable.

The Nickel Has Always Been Bigger Than a Penny

Another unique fact about the nickel’s size is that it has always been larger than the one-cent penny, despite being worth less money. The current penny has a diameter of 19.05 mm (0.75 inches), noticeably smaller than the 21.21 mm nickel.

Interestingly, this was also true of earlier penny and nickel versions. Before the penny was reduced in size in 1857, its diameter was still only 27 mm (1.065 inches) compared to the 30 mm (1.18 inches) nickel introduced that same year.

The Nickel’s Dimensions Have Not Changed Much

Although the composition of the nickel has changed over time, its diameter and thickness have stayed remarkably consistent.

  • The original nickel minted from 1866-1883 measured 20 mm (0.783 inches) wide and 1.5 mm thick.
  • The next version made from 1883-1913 was just slightly larger at 21.21 mm (0.835 inches) wide and 1.95 mm thick.
  • Today’s nickel retains the same diameter of 21.21 mm with a thickness of 1.95 mm maintained since 1913.

That longevity shows how well-suited the five-cent coin’s size has been for handling and commerce over 150+ years of use.

The Nickel is Thicker Than Any Other Current U.S. Coin

Coin Thickness
Penny 1.55 mm
Nickel 1.95 mm
Dime 1.35 mm
Quarter 1.75 mm

As the table shows, the U.S. nickel’s thickness of 1.95 mm makes it thicker than every other current circulation coin. The size and weight likely contribute to the nickel’s perceived sense of value.

So there you have it – some fun super fascinating facts about the seemingly ordinary U.S. five-cent piece. Who knew the humble nickel had such an intriguing history and design story behind its dimensions?

What Is The Diameter Of A Nickel – Conclusion

We’ve covered a lot of territory in this guide on the diameter of America’s humble 5-cent piece. As you can see, even something as small and common as the nickel has an interesting history and design behind it.

So the next time you spot a nickel mixed in with your loose change, take a closer look at it – you might just see this little coin in a whole new light.

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