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. He received $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.
1947-D Jefferson Nickel
37,822,000 Jefferson nickels were struck at the Denver Mint in 1947, significantly less than Philadelphia’s output for the year (95,000,000), but not quite as low as the 24,720,000 mintage put forward by San Francisco. Comparing these mintages to other years, 1947 was a middle of the road year for pre-1965 Jefferson nickel mintage.
As a numismatic collectible, the 1947-D nickel falls in line with most 20th-century “modern” issues. That is, the coin has a niche of dedicated collectors–many that have graduated from penny and nickel boards to collecting set registry quality pieces in certified holders, while others seek to build traditional sets with one of each date and mintmark. There’s nothing wrong with building a Jefferson nickel set following either of these strategies, although the latter is markedly cheaper. But even if building a complete set of superb gem Full Step Jefferson nickels is not your collecting ambition, it is well worth your time to understand the nuances of this issue; the coins that you seek to add to your set might be much more valuable than you or your coin dealer realize.
The Four Categories of the 1947-D
In order to break down the different pricing tiers of the 1947-D, we must break the coin down into four categories: 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 PCGS or NGC holders); and numerical Mint State coins with Full Steps designations (without a doubt the most desirable of all Jefferson nickels for specialists).
Circulated to well-worn examples of the issue can be collected for the sheer fun of it, but it is doubtful that the 1947-D, or any non-Wartime (1942-1945) regular issue nickel of this period will ever appreciate in value beyond face in grades below MS63. Unless pulled out of circulation years ago, the typical grade of a 1947-D nickel still circulated today will be between About Good and Very Good. These coins are worth face value.
Uncirculated specimens that are sold “in the raw” will run the gamut in terms of potential grade and eye appeal. We italicize the word potential because an uncirculated coin in the raw may have all of the look and condition of a Gem or Superb Gem coin, but until it is actually reviewed by professional graders and certified as such, most coin dealers and serious collectors will not treat the coin as such. This is especially true when there is a high price swing between grades. The prevailing rate for an uncirculated “raw” 1947-D nickel is between $1 and $3, depending on the dealer and the look of the coin. As an aside, if your local dealer has a selection of particularly nice uncirculated coins that are not encapsulated, you may want to poke around and see what else you can find.
In Uncirculated certified grades, we see where the real potential of the 1947-D nickel lies. Uncirculated coins, when professionally graded, will fall into one of two categories: Mint State, or Mint State with the Full Steps designation. The 1947-D, like many D-mint coins of the 1940s, yielded a fair number of Full Steps examples and many of these survive. Far more common, however, are examples in Mint State that do not exhibit complete steps due to contact marks or a lack of fullness of strike.
The PCGS population includes more than 900 Mint State 1947-D nickels, the majority bunching up in the grades of MS65 and MS66. 65 is the more populous grade of the two. The NGC census shows more than 650 pieces in Mint State, their census conforms with the grade dispersal that PCGS reports. Simply put, the most common certified Mint State 1947-D Jefferson nickel is a MS65. In this grade, these coins have a market value of about $15-$20.
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:
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.
PCGS uses the attribution FS, as did NGC until 2004, when that company split its designation into 5FS (for five full steps) or 6FS (for six full steps). The NGC census shows a population of 21 pieces with 6FS, 19 in MS66 and 2 in MS67. With 5FS, the NGC population accounts for 199 pieces, the highest being a sole example in MS67+. MS67 is scarce with just 14 pieces, while MS66 and MS65 count 85 pieces each.
PCGS accounts for a total of 766 pieces with Full Steps. A singular piece sits at the top, earning MS67+, while 28 pieces are counted in the MS67 census. The highest concentration of PCGS Full Steps examples are found at MS65. In MS67, a Full Steps 1947-D nickel from either service is expected to bring in excess of $400. In MS66FS, expect to pay $50-$60, while a Full Steps MS65 will likely bring a price on par with the cost of the coin and its submission.
Just as important as grade is look, or eye appeal.
Of the 1947-D, many brilliant white examples survive, but it is just as likely, if not more likely, that you will encounter uncirculated examples with some degree of tarnish. Vintage Jefferson nickels tend to take on rose gold coloration with age, and some develop pastel toning, sometimes faint, like watercolor, other times, vividly technicolor with “monster” color. The more individualized and unique the eye appeal is for this issue, the more desirable it becomes to serious collectors. The prices realized for this issue at auction bear this out quite dramatically.
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 1964 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. A small mint mark “D” is found to the far right of the mansion.
Interestingly, Felix Schlag’s initials did not appear on a Jefferson nickel until 1966.
|Year Of Issue:||1947|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||75% Copper, 25% Nickel|
|OBV Designer||Felix Schlag|
|REV Designer||Felix Schlag|
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