The Jefferson War Nickel: Treasure in Pocket Change

Finding treasure could be as simple as looking at your pocket change at the end of the day.   Although these coins might not be worth millions, they might be worth more than their face value, and so they deserve a quick look.  Some are even real easy to spot.  If you notice an off-colored nickel, it just might be a wartime nickel and hold a higher value than the five cents it displays.

Jefferson nickels were first issued in the year of 1938.  These coins feature an image of America’s third President, Thomas Jefferson, on the obverse side.  His home, Monticello, is featured on the reverse.  During World War II, the United States was forced to change the composition of the Jefferson nickel in order to meet with the high demands for the raw material of nickel.  In October of 1942, the five cent coin was issued with an alloy of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese.  This differed with the previous alloy which included the important 25% nickel and 75% copper.

Wartime Nickels

The Jefferson nickels that were minted from 1942 through 1945 are often referred to as Wartime Nickels because of the change to their compositions during the war.  The other distinguishing aspect of these coins is the location of the mintmark.  Instead of appearing to the right of Monticello on the reverse, a larger mintmark appears above the dome.  Any of the three letters, S, D or P, indicating the mint in which the coin was produced, can be seen.  It was the first time the Philadelphia Mint issued a P mintmark on a coin.

As the wartime nickels circulated the metal alloy used to produce the coins oxidized.  The nickels can be recognized by their unique off-colored surface.  As the price of silver increased, the distinctive coins were worth more than their designated five cents and quickly diminished in circulation. David Ganz, in his book, Profitable Coin Collecting, noted the value of silver within the wartime coins.  In one example he wrote, “At the height of the silver boom in 1980, when the price of silver topped $48 an ounce, each nickel was intrinsically worth $2.70.”  Today, with silver priced at around $20 an ounce, they are worth quite a bit less based solely on their silver content.

Collectible Rare Coins

Their intrinsic worth and their collectible value can differ, though.  For example, in the 2011 U.S. Coin Digest, a 1942P wartime nickel with MS -65 grading is listed with a possible value of $22.50.  Although this is an impressive price for a nickel, others can value even more depending on rarity and condition.  If a person feels they have a unique coin, it is always best to seek an appraisal from a professional coin dealer.

1946 Wartime Nickel

In 1946, the United States changed back to the nickel comprising of 25% nickel and 75% copper.  Recently, it has been discovered that coins with the date of 1946 and using the war time alloy had been minted.  These coins are comparable to the 1943 copper or the 1944 steel pennies.  A 1943 copper penny can sell for thousands of dollars and so a 1946 nickel minted with a war time alloy could value the same.

Jefferson nickels with these dates can still be found in circulation today on occasion.  Tossing change into a jar or other container is not a new habit.  People in the past did the same.  Eventually these stashes of coins make their way into circulation and people with sharp eyes may very well discover a silver wartime nickel.  Taking a quick glance at the coins before tossing them into a can could yield some pleasant surprises, and a treasure!




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8 Responses

  1. Twingem says:

    Very cool, Jenny! I really appreciate what you share. I have 4 huge coin containers from over the years I’ll have to look through on rainy days!!

    • Jenny says:

      I have a few coffee cans full of coins myself I need to go through…..Please let us know if you find anything….and I’ll do the same. 🙂 Good luck! I hope you find many treasures….

      • Twingem says:

        Jenny, you are so awesome. Thank you for all you do. I feel as if I know you. If you are ever in Colorado, I’d be honored to treat you to lunch, dinner, coffee, happy hour – your pick! Hiking in Colorado is the best too.

        I loved this blog as I have my grandparent’s pocket change jars too. They will go to my kids someday!

        Be well. Thanks again.

  2. 23kachinas says:

    I started collecting coins and stamps in 1985. When my parents moved from AK someone stole my impressive stamp collection but I still have the coins…I’ll take a closer look when I get a chance.

  3. Twingem says:

    Hi 23Kachinas! What a bummer on stamps. Reminds me of being robbed on move from DC to New Orelans. My entire jewlrey box was stolen… A little gold locket engraved with my godparent’s initials on one side (Fan and Henri) and my initials on the other (godparent’s picked my first name and my initials were EEE) was taken, along with everything else! My godparent’s left the hospital after naming me, had it engraved, and returned to place it around my neck just hours after I was born. Losing it, along with other sentimental items, was devastating. Nearly two years after being robbed, I got a call saying they’d found some of my jewelry during an arrest. I got my locket back, and I cried for days. Miracles happen! Your stamps may come home to you someday. Keep faith!!

  4. Joey says:

    Thanks very helpful

  5. Armando says:

    I have a 1946 war time nickel and I was wondering how much it’s worth?

  1. August 25, 2015

    […] if you do.  It’s similar to taking a moment to look at your pocket change; those pennies, nickels, or other coins, might be worth more than face value.  One never knows if we’re not looking.  […]

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