Replacing the Buffalo nickel which ceased production that same year, the Jefferson nickel was proposed by the United States Mint, which held a contest to find a suitable design.
Felix Schlag submitted the winning design, which we see on our 5-cent coin to this day.
Changes To The Jefferson Nickel
Over the years, the Jefferson nickel has undergone a few modifications.
The first occurred in 1942, when the United States mint replaced the 75% copper and 25% nickel composition with a copper-silver-manganese alloy, allowing the nickel formerly in the coin to be used for World War II artillery production. So-called “Wartime” nickels were produced with the 56% copper, 35% silver, 9% manganese alloy through 1945.
One way to tell Wartime silver nickels from regular Jefferson nickels is the placement of a huge mintmark over the dome of Monticello on the reverse of the coin. In fact, the P mintmark on 1942-1945 Wartime nickels was the first time the Philadelphia mint had ever used a mintmark on coins. This didn’t happen again until the production of Susan B. Anthony dollars began in 1979.
In 1966, the initials Schlag’s initials, FS, were first placed on the obverse of the coin, just under Jefferson’s bust. This would be the last change on the coin until the start of the Westward Journey commemorative designs in 2004.
These new designs, celebrating the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, included a new, right-facing bust of Jefferson in 2005, designed by Joe Fitzgerald. In 2006, a forward-facing bust of Jefferson, designed by James Franki, was implemented and has appeared since.
Concurrently during the obverse redesigns that occurred during 2004 through 2006, several new reverse designs were used as well. In 2004, depictions of a keel boat and Indian peace medal appeared during the first and second half of the year respectively. In 2005, an American bison consumed the reverse for the first 6 months of the year followed by a view of the Pacific coast emblazoned with the words Ocean in view! O! The joy!
Jefferson Nickel Values
While most Jefferson nickels are highly common and only worth a premium if in mint state condition, there are also several valuable, scarcer Jefferson nickels in existence.
The Jefferson nickel values below are from the 1965, 1985, and 2005 editions of A Guide Book of United States Coins, by R.S. Yeoman, and illustrate the increases (and, in some cases, decreases) in value for the more sought-after dates.
1938-D $4 (1965) $2.25 (1985) $2 (2005)
1938-S $6 (1965) $3.50 (1985) $3 (2005)
1939-D $15 (1965) $9 (1985) $12 (2005)
1939-S $5.50 (1965) $2.30 (1985) $4 (2005)
1950-D Uncirculated $22 (1965) $12 (1985) $8.50 (2005)
1951-S Uncirculated $6.75 (1965) $3 (1985) $1.50 (2005)
*Unless otherwise noted, all values are for coins in Extremely Fine grade.