Sign In or Create Account

Knowledge Center

Jefferson Nickels 1938 to Present

Learn About the History of Jefferson Nickels

Our beloved Jefferson Nickel has been minted since 1938. As the 25th year of minting the hard-to-strike Buffalo Nickel was approaching, the Mint asked repeatedly for a new design to strike. Once approved by Treasury officials, the Mint created a design competition. The obverse of the coin should honor Thomas Jefferson and the reverse should depict his home in Virginia – Monticello.

In January of 1938, the US Mint announced a competition to design the new Jefferson Nickel. The obverse of the coin would depict a bust of Thomas Jefferson while the reverse would picture his home in Virginia – Monticello. By April, the competition had closed and nearly 400 entries had been submitted. German sculptor, Felix Schlag, who had immigrated to the United States in 1929, was the winner of the competition and the $1,000 prize.

(German Sculptor Felix Oscar Schlag)

(Felix Schlag’s entry into the 1938 Jefferson Nickel competition.)

The Mint required some additional changes such as a more refined and longer portrait view of Jefferson, removal of the tree on the reverse as well as the imp[roper placement of the name of Jefferson’s home and Schlag complied by June and the final designs accepted in July.

The final design had a portrait of Jefferson facing left with the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the left side and “LIBERTY” and the date separated by a star on the right side of the obverse. The reverse had a depiction of Monticello as the central theme on the reverse with “E PLURIBUS UNUM” above it and “MONTICELLO” below it with the denomination “FIVE CENTS” below that and finally “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” at the bottom.”

(The 1938 Jefferson Nickel, obverse [left] and reverse [right].)

Production began in September 1938, at all three then-operating mints – Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco. Philadelphia coined 19.5 million coins, Denver 5.4 million and San Francisco 4.1 million of these first-year coins. The composition was unchanged from the prior Buffalo Nickel at .750 Copper and .250 Nickel. With so few coins available they were hoarded by collectors and dealers alike and few saw circulation.

In order to remedy that situation, the Philadelphia Mint alone struck over 120.6 million 1939-dated nickels with the two branch mints contributing another 10 million coins combined. But in Philadelphia’s haste to strike coins and alleviate the hoarding, they created a rarity with the doubling on the reverse of the words “MONTICELLO” and “FIVE CENTS.”

From 1940 to the 1942-D coins, the Mint struck tens to hundreds of millions of these coins. But in October of 1942, Nickel was declared a “necessary and needed wartime material” and the composition of the coin was changed to .560 Copper, .350 Silver and 0.90 Manganese. Although Silver was a valuable precious metal, Nickel was needed for the war effort and 1942-dated coins were struck at Philadelphia and San Francisco. To be able to identify these new coins, a mintmark was used for the first time “P” for coins struck in Philadelphia. The mintmarks for these special “silver nickels” was enlarged and placed over Monticello for easy identification.

(The Silver War Nickels with their easy-to-see Mintmarks – P, D & S.)

Even within the short-lived war nickel series, there were three varieties worthy of note – 1943-P 3 Over 2 Overdate, a 1943-P with a Doubled Eye on Jefferson and 1 1945-P with a Doubled Die on the reverse. The highest mintage war nickel was the 1943-P with over 271 million coins struck and the lowest mintage was the 1943-D with just over 15 million coins struck.

From 1946 to 1950, only two coins are worthy of mention. In 1949 the Denver Mint struck their 1949-D coin using a die intended for San Francisco. Thus the 1949-D Over S overdate was born. In 1950, also at the Denver Mint, only 2.6 million coins were struck and that low number created an incredible demand for those coins. This coin is worth about $15 to $20 in Mint State today, yet was bringing close to $50 per coin in the 1960s. It was one of the first modern rarities and the chance to find one in circulation created hundreds of thousands of new coin collectors.  

Two additional overdates between 1951 and 1964 exist – 1954-S Over D mintmark and the 1955-D over S mintmarked coins are the two examples. Between 1965 and 1993, the only coin of note and worth a premium is the 1971 (No S) Proof Jefferson Nickel. The San Francisco Mint began issuing Proof Specimens in 1968 but in 1971 a small number of proof coins were struck without the S mintmark. Proof coins had been struck since the coin’s initial minting in 1938.

From 1994 to 2003, only two rarities emerged. In 1994, there was a special Philadelphia striking that was frosted like a Proof coin but was itself struck as a Mint State coin. It accompanied the 1993 Jefferson Commemorative Silver Dollar and, again, in 1997 there was a special Philadelphia frosted Proof-looking Mint State coin that was issued with the 1997 Botanic Gardens commemorative coins.

The remaining issues from 1998 to 2003 were uneventful. In 2004 and 2005 to celebrate the Bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase, the coins were redesigned on the obverse with a stylized portrait of Jefferson on the obverse and 4 completely new designs on the reverses. None of these coins, due to the enormous numbers minted, are even scarce in price. The coins minted in 2006 to date kept the stylized obverse portrait of Jefferson but returned to the same reverse first used in 1938. Again, none of the coins are valuable.

DateTypeMintageFine ValueUnc Value
1938 to 1942-DJefferson Nickels120.6 Million to       4.1 Million$2$12
1939 Doubled MonticelloJefferson NickelUnknown       $75$400
1942-D/DJefferson NickelUnknown$65$2,000
1942-P to 1945-SJefferson        War Nickels271.1 Million to      15.3 Million$4$30
1943-P 3/2Jefferson NickelUnknown$50$250
1943-P        Doubled EyeJefferson NickelUnknown$35$500
1945-P          Doubled Die RevJefferson NickelUnknown$25$125
1946 to 1950-SJefferson Nickels161.1 Million to     11.3 Million$.50$3
1949-D D/SJefferson NickelUnknown$100$200
1950-DJefferson Nickel2,630,030$10$20
1951-P to 1964-DJefferson Nickels1,787,297,160 to 7,888,000$.10$2
1954-S S/DJefferson NickelUnknown$20$50
1955-D D/SJefferson NickelUnknown$30$75
1965 to 2003Jefferson Nickels1,509,520,000 to 91,227,880$.05$1
1971-S “No S” PrfJefferson NickelUnknown$500$1,000
1994-P Special UncJefferson Nickel167,703$50$150
1997-P Special UncJefferson Nickel25,000$200$250
2004 to PresentJefferson Nickels846,720,000 to 39,840,000$.05$.10

Shop our assortment of rare coins and expand your collection of Jefferson Nickels today.

Explore More On APMEX



Rare Coins