The Jefferson nickel debuted in 1938, replacing the Indian Head or 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 USD for his efforts.
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. The 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 is 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.
The United States Mint took a two-year hiatus on manufacturing U.S. Mint Uncirculated Coin Sets starting in 1982, which means that nearly every Uncirculated coin produced by the Mint in ’82 or ’83 survives because collectors set these coins aside after they entered into commerce. There are a few exceptions to this rule and those are coins that the United States Mint pulled from production to package into U.S. Mint souvenir sets that were sold at the Philadelphia and Denver Mints.
In total, the Philadelphia Mint struck 292,355,000 nickels in 1982. There are many estimates as to the number that survive in Mint State. On PCGS Coinfacts, PCGS posits that as many as 116 million survive in Mint State, with 46.5 million surviving in the Gem Uncirculated grade of MS-65. The basis of this estimate is not clear and we assume it accounts for a large deposit of unreleased nickels held by the government in deep storage. A more likely population of extant 1982-P Uncs would have that total in the hundreds of thousands, with a minority of them (perhaps 20 to 30 thousand) in grades approaching Gem.
What Is the 1982-P Jefferson Nickel Worth?
What is a 1982-P Jefferson nickel worth? Generally speaking, in circulated grades, the 1982-P is worth five cents and you can find them in circulation. Regardless, some collectors are willing to pay premiums for lightly circulated examples. We have seen XF and AU 1982-P nickels selling on eBay for about $1.50 each.
Certified 1982-P nickels graded by PCGS and NGC can trade for much higher prices. The finest certified example graded by PCGS at the time of publication of this article is graded MS-67 with Full Steps. There are no public auction records for this coin, but in the event that it came to market, it would likely bring in excess of $1,500 at auction. One grade lower, in MS-66 Full Steps, recently offered examples have brought between $300 and $350. Without Full Steps, the value of a certified 1982-P nickel plummets. Recent trades for MS-66 examples under $10 in PCGS holders are plentiful, while NGC examples have faired slightly better.
Judging the future market levels for the 1982-P Jefferson nickel with Full Steps is difficult, but Full Steps nickels represent the segment of the market that has the most demand from Set Registry collectors and advanced Jefferson nickel specialists, while non-Full Step coins are clearly not as desirable to this demographic. The difficulty of completing a Jefferson nickel Full Steps set is unbelievably high, with several key issues and at least one coin that we’d identify as a “stopper”.
If you are the kind of collector that just wants to build a nice set of Jefferson nickels, you can ignore the FS designation and purchase a nice MS-65 or MS-66 certified example of this date for roughly the same price as you would get for a Choice Uncirculated example offered in a 2″ x 2″ flip by your local dealer. In our opinion, this is the way to go.
Earning Full Steps Designation
To earn the designation of Full Steps, a Jefferson nickel must meet the following criteria:
In this graphic, you see that 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.
A left-facing bust of President Thomas Jefferson, including a colonial-era pigtail and strikingly similar in detail to the profile of 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 1982 run clockwise along the right side behind Jefferson. A small five-pointed star divides the two inscriptions.
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 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.
The edge of the 1982-P Jefferson nickel is plain or smooth, without reeding or edge lettering.
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.
|United States of America
|Year Of Issue:
|Five Cents (USD)
|75% Copper, 25% Nickel
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