World War II caused the United States and its citizens to ration certain materials with the purpose of keeping around important resources for winning the war. The United States Treasury and the U.S. Mint followed suit.
While most people are aware of the steel Lincoln pennies which were produced in 1943, fewer seem to know that the Jefferson silver nickels also spent a short period of time being produced under a special composition issue.
With nickel an important military material, the United States Congress required the U.S. Mint to begin striking nickels from a composition of copper (56%), silver (35%), and manganese (9%).
Here’s more about those silver Jefferson "wartime" nickels.
With the U.S. Mint having already begun striking 1942 nickels in the usual 75% copper and 25% nickel composition, use of the copper/ silver/ manganese alloy started late in 1942.
This special composition would last the duration of World War II thereafter, right on through 1945.
Jefferson Wartime Silver Nickels
So-called "wartime nickels" (as they are typically called by collectors and coin dealers alike) are special in a number of ways.
Ironically, of course, there really is no nickel in these nickels. Yet, most people still refer to the 1942-1945 silver 5-cent pieces as nickels anyway.
Numismatically, though, one of the most important points to remark on about these silver nickels is the fact that wartime nickels represent an important "first" in United States coinage history.
Wartime nickels are the first U.S. coins to bear a "P" mintmark. "P" refers to the Philadelphia mint. Up until 1942, in fact, Philadelphia’s coins never bore a mintmark. Philadelphia has always been the "main" U.S. Mint (or the headquarters U.S. Mint, to use modern corporate lingo). After 1945, U.S. coins would not again bear a "P" mintmark until 1979.
Another important issue to note about silver nickels and their mintmarks is the physical size of the mintmark. The wartime nickel mintmarks are huge — virtually unable to be missed by the naked eye. While some people have relative difficulty finding mintmarks on U.S. coinage, the same cannot be said of wartime nickels and their mintmarks. In fact, finding these large mintmarks over the dome of Monticello on the reverse of the coin is often the first way people can tell wartime nickels apart from "regular" nickels.
As the value of silver has risen over the past several decades, so has the demand for, interest in, and value of wartime nickels. With the rise in silver prices during the mid 1960s, the heavy spike in silver bullion values during 1979-1980, and recent inclines in the price of silver, collectors and investors alike have been paying more attention to this run of 11 different silver nickels which were produced during the height of World War II.
The 11 dates and mintmarks for silver nickels are:
1942, Philadelphia (P)
1942, San Francisco (S)
1943, Philadelphia (P)
1943, Denver (D)
1943, San Francisco (S)
1944, Philadelphia (P)
1944, Denver (D)
1944, San Francisco (S)
1945, Philadelphia (P)
1945, Denver (D)
1945, San Francisco (S)
How Much Are Silver Nickels Worth?
Naturally, you may be wondering how much your wartime Jefferson silver nickels are worth.
While it is important to bear in mind that most coins need to be physically examined and appraised by a professional coin dealer in order to ascertain full value, most silver nickels in worn condition will be more or less worth their "spot" price. That is, the amount of money the metal inside the coin is worth. Since silver prices fluctuate hourly (yes, bullion can be and is a highly volatile market), it is wise to refer to a current silver price chart.
According to this silver pricing calculator, if silver values are $15 per ounce, then the silver in a wartime Jefferson nickel is 84 cents. If silver is $16, then the silver value of a wartime nickel is 90 cents. With prices at $17, a single wartime nickel contains 96 cents of silver. Realize, though, that if you have in your hands a Jefferson wartime nickel that is uncirculated or contains errors, your coin will be worth considerably more than the spot price.
Silver nickels can be quite fun to collect. A short series of just 11 coins (and part of the larger Jefferson nickel series spanning from the current day back to 1938, when the first Jefferson nickel designed by Felix Schlag was first minted), silver nickels can still be had for a relatively inexpensive price.