The other day I found a 1938 Jefferson nickel in my change.
My initial thought was, “Wow… this is 70 years old. Surely it must be worth something.”
I think a lot of people tend to think that.
Common Coins In Pocket Change
It happens the most with nickels because they are the coin we receive in our everyday change that has gone the longest without any significant change to the design (other than the special nickels of the last couple years).
Pennies changed in 1959. And all the other coins (dimes, quarters and up) either changed their design or at least went from being made of silver to steel after 1964.
Nickels though, have remained basically the same since 1938, when the Thomas Jefferson design (the Jefferson nickel) was introduced.
Alas, it tends to be that when a coin’s design is still current, the coins from that series stay pretty low in price.
How Much Are Jefferson Nickels Worth?
There are a few rare Jefferson nickels. The ones to particularly watch for are the 1938-D and 1938-S, plus the 1939-D and 1950-D. But even these are only worth $1-$5 in the condition you will most likely find them in your change (which is to say, pretty worn down after 60-70 years of circulation).
If you happen to find them in nearly pristine (almost new) condition, they’re worth several times as much, anywhere from $3 to $25. (Any nickel prior to 1956 is worth several times its face value in this condition, by the way).
Either way, that’s a nice bit of change for a coin that only “cost” you 5 cents.
Which Jefferson Nickel Is The Most Common?
The 1950-D Jefferson nickel might be the most likely find since it is later than the others, yet is worth $5 even in very worn condition.
The wartime nickels from 1942-1946 were made of 40% silver, so they are worth about $1 each.
I assume most people have removed them from circulation, but there may be some still out there because of the way most people assume Jeffersons are only worth face value.
A Word About Mint Marks…
In case you are not familiar with mint marks, each year of Jefferson nickels saw them made at 3 different mints — Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver.
So (most) nickels made in Philadelphia have a P somewhere on the design, while San Francisco nickels always have an S, and Denver nickels have a D.
Happy hunting and feel free to post any finds or questions here!