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.
Nickels Are 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 special nickels — like the Westward Journey nickels).
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. They generally don’t go up much in value until the design on the coin is changed.
How Much Are Jefferson Nickels Worth?
There are a few rare Jefferson nickels.
The ones to particularly watch for are the:
- 1938-D nickel
- 1938-S nickel
- 1939-D nickel
- 1950-D nickel
But even these are only worth $1 to $5 in the condition you will most likely find them in your change (which is to say, pretty worn down after 60 to 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 Of The Rare Jefferson Nickels Is The Most Common?
The 1950-D Jefferson nickel might be the most likely to find, since it is later than the others. It is worth $5, even in very worn condition.
The wartime nickels from 1942 to 1946 were made of 40% silver, so they are worth about $1 each. I assume that people have removed most of these from circulation, but there may be some still out there because of the way some people assume that nickels are only worth face value.
A Word About Mint Marks…
In case you’re not familiar with mint marks, Jefferson nickels were made at 3 different U.S. Mints: Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver.
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!
I’ve been a coin collector and a rare book and collectible dealer for over 15 years. My primary areas of interest are U.S. silver coins and older paper currency.