Jefferson Nickel Overview
Minted since 1938, the Jefferson nickel has seen several design and composition changes over its 80 years of production.
The first year of the Jefferson nickel, 1938, marked the end of the Buffalo nickel, a coin which had been very popular but difficult to strike.
The original design of the Jefferson nickel was created by Felix Schlag. It featured on the obverse a profile bust portrait of Thomas Jefferson, the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the left rim, and the word “LIBERTY” and year of mintage on the right rim.
On the reverse of Schlag’s design is Jefferson’s home Monticello, with “E PLURIBUS UNUM” on the upper rim, “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” on the lower rim, and the denomination “FIVE CENTS” under Monticello.
Schlag’s design was used until 2003, when a series of several commemorative nickels was created. In 2006, Jamie Franki created a new obverse design featuring a forward-facing Jefferson portrait and the word “Liberty” in Jefferson’s script, though the reverse was still Schlag’s Monticello design. This design is still in use today.
Jefferson nickels are made of 75% copper and 25% nickel, although nickels made between 1942 and 1945 have different compositions. Jefferson nickels have a diameter of 12.21mm and a mass of 5g.
For more information on nickels, see our Ultimate Guide to Rare Nickels!
History of the 1943 Jefferson Nickel
The 1943 nickel was minted during America’s involvement in World War II, and since nickel was deemed an important material for the war effort, the composition of the coin was altered to conserve nickel.
This subset of Jefferson nickels, often referred to as “wartime nickels” or simply “war nickels,” were minted from 1943 to 1945. Their altered composition is 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese.
The wartime nickels are also unique among Jefferson nickels in terms of mint mark. On wartime nickels, the mint mark is prominently displayed above Monticello on the reverse, including a “P” for Philadelphia. This was the first time a mint mark for Philadelphia had appeared on a US coin.
The Jefferson nickel in 1943 saw very high production numbers, with almost 400,000 coins struck. Philadelphia reports minting 271,165,000 nickels. San Francisco reports minting 104,060,000. Denver numbers were especially low, with only 15,294,000 nickels struck.
There are a couple of notable varieties of the 1943-P nickel, both of which can raise the value of any specimen.
Both are doubled die varieties. This means that when the die was being created, an imperfect placement or alignment cause the hub to strike the die in two slightly different locations, creating a doubling effect on the design of that die. This should not be confused with machine doubling.
The first variety is an overdate, meaning that one date was struck over another date. In this case, the year 1942 was struck originally and then later restruck to 1943. As seen in the below picture, this most commonly manifests as a sort of hook on the bottom left end of the 3.
The second and usually less valuable variety is simply known as a doubled die obverse or a doubled eye error, as the most visible doubling is in Jefferson’s eye. The doubling can also sometimes be seen in the numbers and lettering on the coin.
Valuing the 1943 Jefferson Nickel
Because the 1943 Jefferson nickel contains silver, its minimum value is its melt value, the worth of its metal when melted down. Based on the current price of silver, the melt value of this coin is about $0.92.
However, the numismatic value of the 1943 nickel (what it is worth to collectors) is higher than its melt value, even in lower grades.
For a coin minted in Philadelphia, Good 4 to Fine 12 grades are worth between $1.00 and $2.00. Very Fine 20 to About Uncirculated 50 grades are worth between $2.00 and $3.06. This increases to $5.23 in Uncirculated MS-60 and $21 in Uncirculated MS-65.
San Francisco mintages (signified by a large “S” on the reverse) are worth about ten cents more on average than Philadelphia mintages.
Denver coins (signified by a large “D” on the reverse) are worth about a dollar more than San Francisco mintages.
Some drastic value changes can be seen in the varieties discussed in the previous section. Good to Very Fine grades of the doubled die obverse variety are worth between $18 and $21.
This increases to $41 in Extremely Fine, $60 in About Uncirculated, $93 in Uncirculated (MS-60), and $651 in Uncirculated (MS-65)!
The overdate variety is even more valuable, Good to Fine grades being worth $21 to $35. Very Fine examples are worth $50, and Extremely Fine examples can bring as much as $101.
About Uncirculated overdate coins are valued at $170; Uncirculated (MS-60) coins at $232; and Uncirculated (MS-65) coins at $708.
Perhaps the most crucial element used in grading Jefferson nickels is the staircase on the reverse Monticello design. Coins that clearly display five or six steps are referred to as Full Step, which can greatly increase value.
A Full Step 1943-P nickel graded at MS-67 sold for $1,057.50 in 2017!