Bullion is a popular form of investment, but Jefferson Nickels are not part of that system. Instead, these 5-cent coins are valued for different reasons. The most valuable Jefferson nickels are the wartime ones because they contained silver. In the past, some of these coins have sold for $10,000! Let’s start by sharing some verified sales stats on Jefferson nickels.
Most Valuable Jefferson Nickels
The reselling space moves in cycles and seasons. This means a Jefferson Nickel might be worth $5 today but resell for $5,000 in a few months, years, or decades to come. But first, let’s learn a bit more about these coins and their connection to America’s Founding Fathers.
- Year: 1976
- Type: Ultra Cameo
- Value: $2,975
From 1913 to 1937, nickels bore the face of a Native American warrior. These coins were called Buffalo Nickels, and they’ve been previously released as gold and silver bullion. But they were tough to mint, so the government switched over to Jefferson Nickels in 1938.
A bit of history. Thomas Jefferson was the 3rd President of the United States. Since 1938, his face was the obverse (front/heads) of every US nickel, both circulated and uncirculated. Pre-1938, the nickel had a Native American on the obverse. This was called the Buffalo Nickel.
- Year: 1971
- Type: Proof FS
- Value: $1,134
Buffalo nickels were highly valued and were echoed in 2006. More on that later. The nickel is the nickname for a 5-cent coin, and circulated ones are 75% copper and 25% nickel. But Thomas Jefferson nickels from the war years (1942 to 1945) had different metal formulas.
These wartime nickels were 35% silver and 56% copper. The missing 9% was manganese. The shift came because nickel is an important part of military equipment. The bulk of it was redirected towards the war effort. As a result, these silver-loaded coins had more melt value.
- Year: 1951
- Type: Full Steps
- Value: $18,600
For this reason, circulated Thomas Jefferson nickels minted between 1942 and 1945 have a high resale rate among prospectors and investors. Savvy war vets kept these coins for their historical merit, and as family heirlooms, they could earn good money for their grandkids.
If you’re trading coins, you need a quick way to identify the most valuable Jefferson nickels. The silver-infused nickels have a higher melt value, and you can spot them by checking the mint mark. US coins are minted in three places – San Francisco, Philadephia, or West Point.
- Year: 1955
- Type: Full Steps
- Value: $1,250
The mint mark appears on the reverse of the coin and is usually the first letter of the mint. So that would be S, P, or W, though some nickels were coined in Denver. On ordinary nickels, the mint mark is on the right, but on silver coins, the mint mark is closer to the top.
You might think that Roman-looking building on the back of your nickel is an ancient temple or local library. It’s actually Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. On some coins, the building has fuzzy steps. So if you find one with sharp, clear, full steps, it could be valuable.
- Year: 1939
- Type: Reverse of 1940
- Value: $3,555
Also, while the mint mark moved around the coin in various years, there are Jefferson Nickels with no mint mark at all. This doesn’t necessarily mean the coin is fake, but it may be a coin from 1965 to 1967 (or a Philadelphia coin post-1946) when no mint marks were used.
Let’s talk a little more about mint marks. After 1968, the marks moved from the back of the coin to the front. The mint mark was now stamped slightly under the year of production. Then from 2005, the mint mark sat below the word ‘Liberty’ on the front side of the nickel.
- Year: 1950
- Type: W/Patina
- Value: $1,475
Why were they so finicky about the positioning of the mark. Well, for silver-laced wartime nickels, the idea was to identify them at a glance so they could be taken out of circulation after the war. For other coins, it was a design issue since Jefferson’s positioning had shifted.
You may wonder how Thomas Jefferson ended up on the nickel in the first place. Early in 1938, the US Mint held a contest to redesign the Buffalo Nickel. Entries had to have Jefferson on the obverse and Monticello on the reverse. Felix Schlag won the competition.
- Year: 1964
- Type: Special Strike
- Value: $31,200
The design he offered was tweaked to suit the mint though. His initial concept had the house at an angle with a tree beside it. He was asked to have the house as a full frontal and take out the tree. He was also asked to change the font. For all that, he won $1,000 + bragging rights.
Did you catch that line about Philadelphia coins ditching their mint mark in 1946? It may seem like trivia, but it could make or break you as a coin reseller. Why? Well, it turns out counterfeiters play around with dates and mint marks. It’s why you have to know your stuff.
- Year: Unknown
- Type: Unknown
- Value: $1999.99
Case in point, a known bootlegger released Jefferson Nickels marked 1944 … except they didn’t have the P mark. Authentic Jefferson nickels retained that mark for two more years, and collectors will shell out a lot of dough for one of these Francis LeRoy Henning fakes.
When Henning made his counterfeit coins in 1954, he included nickels from other years. But why waste time forging a nickel? Henning was earlier charged with faking $5 bills, which is worth $80 to $100 in today’s money. He even got arrested for it and spent time in prison.
- Year: 1949
- Type: Mint Set
- Value: $1,200
When he got out, he shot lower. He had a day job as an engineer and formed a children’s toy company as a cover. In addition to the 1944 P nickel, he also counterfeited coins dated 1953, 1947, 1946, and 1939. The die-casts for his kids’ toys were the perfect foil for coin molds.
In case you’re curious about what happened to Henning, he ended up dumping most of his fake coins in the river. Specifically, Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania and Copper Creek in New Jersey. But the law still got him. He went back to jail and paid a pocket-busting fine.
- Year: 1945
- Type: Double-Die
- Value: $1,800
The fine was $5,000, which is about $50,000 in contemporary cash value. His second prison term was 3 years. Henning claims he made a $5,000 profit, but by the time he dumped his stocks, got arrested, and paid his fine, he was down about $7,000. Crime didn’t pay for him!
Henning’s counterfeits were first discovered by a coin expert named Harmen Rogers. He found one of the 1944 coins with the missing P and reported it. By then, Henning was regularly depositing coins at the bank, and some of the tellers were suspicious of the fakes.
- Year: 1942
- Type: D over D
- Value: $11,088
He claimed to run a vending machine, which is why he brought in so many coins. But his first set was all from the same year so he got flagged. That’s what made him add molds from other years – twelve in total – with the five different dates. Collectors still want these fakes!
While the Secret Service and the Philadephia Harbour Police pretty much drained the river dumps, you can still bump into some of these Henning nickels in the wild, and they can earn you a fortune from the right buyers. The fake coins often have an error on the ‘r’ in Pluribus.
- Year: 1953
- Type: Full Steps
- Value: $1,675.38
They will also have weight discrepancies, typically weighing 5.4g or 4.85g while authentic nickels weigh 5g (with or without silver). Other coins have a crack above the house, probably from breakage in his low-cost molds. They might have dots or raised spots near the edges.
As you do your research on rare Jefferson Nickels, you might rush to find coins with errors. This is because printing mistakes can often hike the price of collectibles. But with these nickels, some mishaps are more valuable than others. We’ve already described the Hennings.
- Year: 1943
- Type: Overstamp 3 over 2
- Value: $785
But there’s a 1943 Philadephia nickel that has a faint 2 under the 3 because they used the wrong die. That one is worth a lot. Or you might find Denver coins where you can see the traces of an S under the D because the old San Francisco dies were sent to Denver for re-use.
You could also look for nickels from 1949 or 1954 – they routinely had double-stamp errors where one mint mark or year was stamped on top of another. However, rarity doesn’t always guarantee profits. For example, in 1950, the Denver mint released a smaller batch of nickels.
- Year: 1945
- Type: Double Die
- Value: $910
They made roughly 2.63 million, and when people found out, they started hoarding the coins for speculation, thinking they would be worth something later. But many of the hidden coins hit the market at around the same time, and this flood of 1950-Ds lowered their resale value.
Judging by the attention given to Jefferson nickels, you’d be forgiven for assuming they’re bullion. (They’re not!) Bullion coins are the government’s way of helping everyday people get their hands on physical gold or silver. The coins are worth their melt value in precious metal.
- Year: 2005
- Type: Speared Bison
- Value: $2,650
Suppose you buy a 2022 Gold Eagle. It weighs 33.931g and has a face value of $50. But its melt value – considering gold is currently worth $60 per gram – would be about $1,700. Although Jefferson nickels aren’t collected for their melt value, proofs can be worth a lot.
The US Government releases proof coins almost every year. These are targeted at collectors, and lots of people buy them for speculation. The role of a proof is quality control – it helps them catch any errors in the die. A copy of the proof will remain in official archival spaces.
- Year: 1939
- Type: Reverse of 1940
- Value: $11,750
Proofs have a higher level of polish and detail than circulated coins, so they’re easy to spot. Usually, the device (e.g. Thomas Jefferson or Monticello) is reflective while the field (aka the background) is matte. If it’s the other way around, it’ll be marked as a reverse-proof coin.
Reverse Proof coins will have the year of the die stated. For example, you might see a coin marked ‘Reverse of 1998’ meaning it used the same die as 1998, but it was ‘flipped’ so now the backdrop is shiny while the device is matte and cloudy. Proofs are struck in Philadelphia.
- Year: 1943
- Type: Double Eye
- Value: $721
Of course, some years didn’t have proofs, and you should be aware of them in case you end up with a fake. No proofs were sold between 1942 and 1950. There was another break from 1964 to 1966 because of the national coin shortage. It’s why those coins had no mint marks.
That last comment might need elaboration. You see, even when the government doesn’t sell proofs, it still needs archives and quality control. So from 1965 to 1967, they made mint sets that weren’t as meticulous as proofs. And they didn’t put mint marks on these subpar coins.
- Year: 1962
- Type: Proof
- Value: $700
Let’s look into a few more years to note which may help you catch a counterfeit. Nickels from 1968 to 1970 can’t have a P mark because none were minted in Philadelphia. In 1971, a proof was coined in San Francisco, but no more nickels were marked S after that final glossy coin.
Earlier, we mentioned that collectors love full-step nickels. But that’s only on the older coins. Newer ones (post-1987) largely have the six entrance steps clearly defined. You can also find commemorative matte nickels marked P from 1994 and 1997. They were quite a limited run.
- Year: 1941
- Type: Overstamped
- Value: $700
Nickels coined between 2003 and 2005 are different too. The tails side of these coins feature either a handshake below Native American peace medals, a keelboat, a bison, or a coastline. After 2006, the coins reverted to their prior style – Jefferson obverse and Monticello reverse.
Tips for Reselling the Most Valuable Jefferson Nickels
(One dealer’s trick was to buy large bags of coins from the bank and sift them for rarities!)
- Focus on current ‘sold items’ to get realistic rates.
- Sell your coins during anniversary years – you’ll get better prices.
- Get familiar with key features so you can spot a prize. (Or a fake!)
- Keep up with relevant developments (e.g. the Maya Angelou Quarter …)
Do you have any other tips on finding or reselling Jefferson nickels? Tell us in the comments!