Hello, Joe -- Many old time shield nickels carry good value even in average circulated condition. There are some better-date coins commanding higher prices than common dates. This page presents some typical stats from the Grey Sheet, a conservative US coin price guide. These are catalog values (see our Important Terminology page for an explanation of catalog values) that apply to problem-free coins with decent eye appeal. Coins that are damaged, cleaned, scratched, stained, or otherwise defective are worth about zero.
COMMON DATE COINS - These values are for coins with dates not shown below:
worn: $25 US dollars catalog value
average circulated: $45
well preserved: $60
fully uncirculated: $160
BETTER DATE COINS - The values shown are for coins in well preserved condition, like our picture. Coin with wear are worth much less:
1866, 1867, 1872, 1874, 1876: $130
All the values above are inflated catalog values. Use our Important Terminology page to understand what this means relative to actual buy and sell values.
For serious collectors, there are several coins with small nuances that make them more or less valuable. This amount of detail supersedes our CoinQuest venue. For instance, an 1883 coin is a common date at $60 catalog, but an 1883 3 over 2 catalogs at $400 in well preserved condition.
Proof coins have surfaces that reflect light like a mirror. You can easily see your reflection in a proof coin when you look closely. Business strikes (produced for circulation) that are completely uncirculated look different than proof coins. Their surfaces are lustrous, but not mirror-like. A lustrous coin has a pleasing surface that is best described as 'creamy' or 'frosty' but not 'shiney.' The coin in the picture is a business strike, not a proof. Proof shield nickels dated 1877 and 1878 catalog over $1000.
Sometimes people polish business strike coins with silver polish. This gives their surfaces a mirror-like appearance, but it also destroys the sharpness of the detail in the strike. If you have a coin with mirror-like surfaces but with impaired detail, it is probably a polished coin and not a proof. A true proof has mirror-like surfaces and sharp detail.
As to the value of your Joe's 1880 coin, you have a complicated question. Usually proof coins are worth more than regular business strikes. But this is not the case with an 1880 shield nickel. Catalog value for a proof version of your coin is $725 US Dollars, but catalog value for an uncirculated business strike is a whopping $7500. Zowie!