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HomeUS CoinsJefferson War Nickel, 1942-1945 : A Collector's Guide

Jefferson War Nickel, 1942-1945 : A Collector’s Guide

This is an image of a Jefferson war nickel in World War 2 battle scene.

As the United States converted its industrial might to the war effort, the Federal Government looked closely at its supply of strategic materials. Copper, used to produce cents and alloyed with silver and gold to produce other denominations, was diverted for military use in 1943. Nickel, used to strike the Jefferson nickel five-cent coin, was diverted for military use in the spring of 1942 and continued to be missing from coinage until the war’s conclusion in 1945. It was used in the construction of P-51 Mustang and the B-29 Superfortress. Additionally, nickel’s anti-corrosive properties made it ideal for the construction of navy ships and amphibious landing craft.

The Search for a Replacement Metal

The United States Mint’s search for a replacement for nickel raised an issue that had previously came up during the transition from the Liberty Head nickel to the Indian Head or Buffalo nickel: the replacement metal would have to satisfy the needs of the vending machine industry.

Vending machines not only check a coin’s weight but also its electrical resistance. Any substitute for nickel in the five-cent coin would need to meet both requirements. Otherwise, tens of thousands of pieces of equipment installed around the country would not recognize the new coins.

Following several trials, metallurgists discovered that an alloy of copper, silver, and manganese met the weight and electrical specifications. With the passage of the Act of March 27, 1942, Congress authorized the War Nickel alloy.

The first coins of the new tenor were produced in October of that year. Thus, five-cent coins were minted without their namesake constituent – there was no nickel in the “nickel”. Wartime nickels marked the first time that silver had been used in a five-cent denomination since the half dime was last minted in 1873.

How Can I Tell if I Have a War Nickel?

But not every nickel struck in 1942 is a war nickel.

Before the March 27 authorization, the mints at Philadelphia and Denver struck a combined 63,727,000 coins. After the new silver alloy was authorized, the Philadelphia Mint struck 57,873,000 nickels for circulation and 27,600 examples in Proof. The Denver Mint did not produce additional nickels in 1942, but the San Francisco Mint turned out 32,900,000 war nickels after producing none in the usual composition.

The Mint needed to differentiate nickels struck in the wartime alloy from normal nickels, so it used oversized mintmarks.

Typically, the mintmark for Denver and San Francisco strikes appears as a small letter positioned just above the steps on the far right of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s mansion, on the reverse. Nickels struck in the silver alloy have an oversized mintmark placed above the dome of Monticello. To comply with this requirement, for the first time, the P mintmark was used to signify coins minted at Philadelphia.

After the war, the coinage in the standard nickel composition resumed, and the small mintmark returned to its normal position for D and S mint coins. The removal of 870 million Jefferson War Nickels took place over time. Primarily, the general public removed the coins, as is often the case when “bad” money follows “good”. Interest in collecting nickels in the unusual wartime composition grew after the war, and today, collector sets comprised of worn examples are often packaged and marketed to beginner collectors.

Characteristics of the Jefferson War Nickel

Nickels produced in the wartime composition have a different appearance than the typical Jefferson nickel. The coins are brighter and typically better struck. These coins also tone like 90% silver coins and are sometimes encountered with vivid iridescent toning. Full Steps details are also frequently encountered on nickels of this period.

Not every coin was made well, however. The wartime alloy did not always blend well, and lamination defects and irregular oxidation effects are not uncommon. It’s best to avoid coins with these impairments if building a high-end registry set.

Jefferson War Nickel Varieties

Several collectible varieties are known, including 1943-P, 3 Over 2; 1943-P, Doubled-Die Obverse; 1943-P, Doubled Eye; 1945-P, Doubled-Die Reverse; and other minor die variations.

In addition, off-metal strikes were produced. Some 1942-P and 1943-P nickels were produced on copper-nickel blanks, while some 1946 examples were minted on silver composition blanks – a situation not unlike that of the 1943 bronze cent.

Henning’s Folly

A Collectible Counterfeit? The Story of Henning Nickels - Tyler Rossi

In the early 1950s, 1944 copper-nickel coins without the P mintmark were discovered in circulation, but these were determined to be counterfeits. CoinWeek contributing writer Tyler Rossi wrote an excellent piece on the Henning counterfeit 1944 nickels.

In-Depth Jefferson War Nickel Analysis by CoinWeek

1943-S Jefferson Nickel. Image: CoinWeek.
1943-S Jefferson Nickel. Image: CoinWeek.

Design

Obverse:

The obverse displays a left-facing portrait of President and Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, who wears a coat and a wig representative of the period. Inside a flat rim is IN GOD WE TRUST to the left of the portrait, and LIBERTY and the date to the right, the last two separated by a small centered five-point star.

Reverse:

The reverse shows an elevation view of the front of Monticello, with the word MONTICELLO below. Around the smooth rim are E PLURIBUS UNUM at the top and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA at the bottom; FIVE CENTS in smaller letters forms a concentric arc above STATES OF and below MONTICELLO. Wartime nickels were minted in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Denver; P, S, and D mintmarks are located above the building, below E PLURIBUS UNUM.

Edge:

The edge of all Jefferson War Nickels is plain or smooth, without reeding or edge lettering.

Designer

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

Jefferson War Nickel
Years Of Issue: 1942-45
Mintage (Circulation): High: 271,165,000 (1943-P); Low: 15,294,000 (1943-D)
Mintage (Proof): 27,600 (1942-P only)
Alloy: 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese
Weight: 5.00 g
Diameter: 21.20 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: Felix Schlag
REV Designer: Felix Schlag

 

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References

Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of Buffalo and Jefferson Nickels. Whitman Publishing.

–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.

Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.

Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.

Taxay, Don. The U.S. Mint and Coinage. Arco Publishing.

Yeoman, R.S and Jeff Garrett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.

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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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11 COMMENTS

  1. The Jefferson War(Silver)PL Nickles were really-limited, Bein’certified thru NGC in (Proof-Like)Grade.(Pcgs never Certified these) I do have the 1945-S I’ve had for many years. NGC only has (1) in MS-65 of which I’m fortuate to own. I realize there were less than (10) of these Certified in this Grade,thru out the War Years (1942-1945).Has Anyone/Anybody been able to put a Value on such coins as these? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    PS: This coin is in my NGC Registry 1938 to Date/Category/JGB’s Jeff- Collection. You are welcome to visit,an give any comments.
    Respectively’ Jim/jb4gpo/

  2. I have a 1945 S wartime nickel in VF condition that I am very interested in selling. If you know any collectors that would be interested in buying would you please forward my email to them . I ask this because I’m in a very rural area and don’t make it to the bigger cities often enough to look them up .
    Thank you for your time

  3. I found a 1942 P nickel and I was wondering what it’s worth it’s got all the descriptions of the described in the World War II description and off the metal amative said was 56 percent copper 35 percent silver and 16 percent manganese I was just wondering if anyone to give me a price on It.

  4. I believe I have a 1954P wartime nickel that’s made of copper. Any experts on here that could help me differentiate between the 2 ?

    Thanks James

  5. I have whist I believe to be a rare 1943 P non-silver war nickel. The coin weighs 5.00 grams. I did a specific gravity test using my coin scale and a plastic cup filled with water. Placed the cup containing the water on the scale then pressed the tare weight button on the scale which zeroed it out. With the nickel tied to a sewing thread I submerged the nickel in the water which produced a weight of .55 grams. I then divided 5.00 grams by .55 grams which gave me a density reading of 8.92 which is the density of copper/nickel. Silver density is 9.25. Now does anyone out there know how I can find out the metal content to be sure that it is copper/nickel and not silver?

  6. I have what I believe to be a rare 1943 P non-silver war nickel. The coin weighs 5.00 grams. I did a specific gravity test using my coin scale and a plastic cup filled with water. Placed the cup containing the water on the scale then pressed the tare weight button on the scale which zeroed it out. With the nickel tied to a sewing thread I submerged the nickel in the water which produced a weight of .55 grams. I then divided 5.00 grams by .55 grams which gave me a density reading of 8.92 which is the density of copper/nickel. Silver density is 9.25. Now does anyone out there know how I can find out the metal content to be sure that it is copper/nickel and not silver?

  7. I have a 1945 P nickel that weighs 4.6- 4.7 no more. All info i find sayys it should wegh 5g. Any info on this is greatly appreciated!! Is it an error ? And price value?

  8. I’ve got 1 of them and 18th century Morgan silver dollar one with the mistake and 72 silver dollar 72 half dollar

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