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1940 Jefferson Nickel : A Collector’s Guide

1940 Jefferson Nickel. Image: CoinWeek.
1940 Jefferson Nickel. Image: CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..

1940 Was the Third Year of Production for the Jefferson Nickel

The Jefferson Nickel debuted in 1938, replacing the Buffalo Nickel in the 25th year of its production run. A design contest to commemorate Founding Father and Third President of the United States Thomas Jefferson, open to “all American sculptors”, was held in 1937. German émigré and American artist Felix Oscar Schlag was the winner, receiving $1,000 for his effort.

Schlag’s concept for the obverse, which art scholar Cornelius Vermeule claimed was similar to Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 1789 bust of Jefferson, appeared essentially the same on the five-cent nickel for 66 years. His original reverse concept, however–featuring an innovative three-quarters perspective of Jefferson’s mansion Monticello–was rejected by the Treasury Department. Various changes were requested, the most significant of which being the flat, head-on portrayal of Monticello that is found on Jefferson nickels minted to this very day (though commemorative issues with different reverses have also been released). According to the rules of the design competition, the winning artist would receive no additional compensation for this extra work.

176,485,000 Jefferson nickels were struck at the Philadelphia Mint in 1940 – a significant increase in mintage over Philadelphia’s 1939 output and up to this point in the Jefferson nickel series, this figure represents a series high. As for Jefferson nickels struck in the 1940s, the 1940-(P) is the third-most-common. Amazingly, despite the large mintage, the issue did not yield any significant varieties.

How Much Is a 1940 Jefferson Nickel Worth? The Four Pricing Tiers

In order to answer the question How much is a 1940 Jefferson Nickel worth?, we must break down the coin into four different pricing tiers: circulated coins (like those typically found in change); uncirculated examples (like those typically sold in uncertified grades at coin shops); numerical Mint State coins (those in CACG, NGC, or PCGS holders); and numerical Mint State coins with Full Steps designations (the most desirable of all Jefferson nickels for specialists).

Circulated to well-worn examples sometimes turn up in change. Due to the issue’s large mintage and the relative ease at which one can secure attractive uncirculated examples, circulated 1940 Jefferson nickels are not worth more than face value.

“Raw” Uncirculated specimens are a fair value, from about $1.50 for an example in Brilliant Uncirculated condition up to about $15 for one in “Gem”.

Gem uncirculated grades translate to MS-65 and above in certified grades. The terminal grade (meaning the lowest grade in which it is feasible to submit a 1940 nickel to a grading service for certification) is MS-67. Even in certified holders, the $15 “Gem” retail price holds for certified examples in MS-65. In MS-66, the market yields slightly more, but it isn’t until you get to MS-67 that premiums of $100 or more are paid for 1940 nickels. An attractive example certified MS-67 by PCGS brought $104 (with Buyer’s Premium) at a February 2017 Heritage Auction.

In viewing the certified populations at CACG, NGC, and PCGS, Full Step examples of the 1940-(P) are more frequently encountered than nickels without this attribution. Nevertheless, one should not deduce that Full Steps nickels are more plentiful. In truth, Full Steps nickels carry roughly twice the premium as their regular counterparts and are therefore more profitable to submit. We believe that a significant number of non-Full Steps nickels were submitted in hopes of earning the designation. By comparison, a November 2017 Heritage Auction saw a PCGS MS-67 1940 Jefferson nickel with Full Steps realize $234.

On the extreme end of the pricing spectrum is the price paid for one of three examples certified at the highest level graded by PCGS. At the March 2016 ANA National Money Show in Dallas, Heritage sold a PCGS MS68FS Jefferson nickel for $6,462.50. This example is virtually flawless, save for a tiny hit below Jefferson’s eye.

Finally, we get to the most coveted category of Jefferson nickel, fully-struck pieces with Full Steps. A number of references have been written about the Full Steps designation, but an easy explanation can be derived from the following graphic:

Guide to Full Steps Jefferson Nickels

In this graphic, you see the steps, located on the design between the stylobate (a flat pavement section on which rest the four front columns of the design) and the foundation block at the base of the steps. Factors such as die condition, striking pressure, and incidental contact with other coins play a significant factor in whether a Jefferson nickel will earn the Full Steps designation.

PCGS uses the attribution FS, as did NGC until 2004 when that company split its designation into 5FS (for five full steps) and 6FS (for six full steps).



A left-facing bust of President Thomas Jefferson, including a colonial-era pigtail and strikingly similar in detail to the profile of Jean-Antoine Houdon’s 1789 bust, takes up the majority of the obverse. The top of his head almost touches the rim, and the barest of truncations is visible at the bottom where Jefferson’s left shoulder meets the edge of the coin. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST–which became the national motto in 1956–arcs clockwise along most of the length of the left side of the coin, starting from Jefferson’s chest and extending to his hairline. The inscriptions LIBERTY and the date 1940 run clockwise along the right side behind Jefferson. A small five-pointed star divides the two inscriptions

1947-D Jefferson Nickel reverse


The reverse features a front view of Monticello, Jefferson’s mansion near Charlottesville, Virginia. The polymath Jefferson designed the neoclassical building himself, based on architectural principles from the Italian Renaissance; the name “Monticello” comes from the Italian for “mound” or “little mountain”. The building loses much of its dimensionality in the flattened rendering, but the octagonal nature of the dome can still be interpreted, and better strikes reveal significant detail in the steps and portico.

Atop the reverse is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM (“Out of Many, One”). The name MONTICELLO–the placement of which on the coin was one of the revisions forced upon Schlag by the United States Mint–is found in a straight line immediately under the building; the positions and spacing of the other inscriptions had to be adjusted to make room for it. The denomination FIVE CENTS forms a gently curving line beneath that, and the inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA runs counterclockwise along the bottom edge of the coin.

Interestingly, Felix Schlag’s initials did not appear on a Jefferson nickel until 1966.


The edge of the 1940 Jefferson nickel is plain or smooth, without lettering or edge inscriptions.


Felix Schlag was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1891. After receiving an education at the Munich University of Fine Arts, he moved to the United States in 1929. Schlag died in 1974. Yet while he did win numerous art contests and commissions throughout much of the remainder of his life, the Jefferson Nickel was his only coin design.

Coin Specifications

Country:  United States of America
Year Of Issue:  1940
Denomination:  Five Cents (USD)
Mint Mark:  None (Philadelphia)
Mintage:  176,485,000
Alloy:  75% Copper, 25% Nickel
Weight:  5.00 grams
Diameter:  21.21 mm
OBV Designer  Felix Schlag
REV Designer  Felix Schlag
Quality:  Uncirculated


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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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  1. I have a 1940 Jefferson nickel. Upon research, I have found some that have been sold for 1000,s of dollars. I would be interested to know the value and desirability of of the one that I have.

  2. All these 1940 nickels. They are a common find. You all will be disappointed to understand that they are valued at face value and maybe double the price.

  3. My name,is m williams.and l have four 1940 nickels I would like it if I could ,find out how much they are worth.

    • As multiple posts above have noted, 1940 US nickels are very common. Unless your coins are in pristine condition they’re only worth face value to 10 or 15 cent each.

      If nothing else you can keep them as mementos or conversation-starters about a time just before the US went to war. You can imagine someone putting them in a jukebox (5¢ in those days) or a soldier spending one on a Coke with his “best girl”.

  4. Chester, you need to have that checked out.first get another nickel and drop it 12 inches from table,then your special nickel.listen for a difference in the pinging sound .A higher pitch sound indicates silver possibley.good luck.

    • @Tyler Farley: The standard weight of an unworn US nickel is 5.0 ± 0.194 gm. While 4.7 gm is just below the bottom end of that range, it could be a reasonable weight for a heavily-worn specimen. In that case you have an ordinary 8-decades-plus nickel which is worth only face value.

      If your coin is only slightly worn you could try showing it to a dealer or numismatic expert, but given how common the date is, it’s unlikely to be anything special. Unfortunately where coins are concerned “old” doesn’t always imply “valuable”.


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