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 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.
202,807,500 Jefferson nickels were struck at the Denver Mint in 1969; quite a sum, but a far cry from the 2.8 billion nickels struck at the Philadelphia and Denver mints just five years earlier. In 1969, the United States Mint allocated all of its nickel production to its Denver and San Francisco facilities. No nickels were struck in Philadelphia in 1969 or in 1970. With a mintage this high, the 1969-D nickel is a common coin that can be readily found in circulation. Nearly 50 years old, most coins encountered in the wild will be well circulated, although it is possible to find examples that survive in About Uncirculated grades.
Record Setter: The 1969-D Jefferson Nickel in Today’s Market
What is the 1969-D Jefferson nickel worth? This is an easily answered question but it requires a bit of texture and context.
In circulated grades, the 1969-D nickel is worth its face value of five cents. In uncirculated condition, however, the 1969-D takes on a different character. Consider that a 1969 United States Mint Set sells for about $9.00 and includes one of each coin struck by the Mint, including a 40% silver Kennedy half dollar. In this set, one would likely give each nickel a “value” of about $1. Recent eBay sales figures correspond with this estimate. This is a premium of 20 times the face value.
Once certified by a major grading service, the numismatic premium of the 1969-D escalates depending on grade and strike. The Mint State grading scale is made for grades 60 to 70. A coin in MS60 is technically Uncirculated, but heavily abused and practically undesirable in any instance where higher-quality examples are available. In MS63, the coin is described as being in Choice Uncirculated condition. In this grade, the coin may have subdued luster and a number of dings, hits, or marks that come about from coin-on-coin contact.
At two grades higher, a coin is considered Gem Uncirculated. The presence of dings and hits will be considerably less. At this grade, the coin will have full luster and generally appear attractive. From MS65 to MS69, the degree of hits and dings diminishes drastically until none are perceptible to the naked eye.
MS70 is considered perfect. For the 1969-D Jefferson nickel, MS70 is a theoretical grade. No business strike nickel of this period was ever struck with the amount of care necessary for a coin to qualify for this grade. In fact, PCGS has not graded a single 1969-D Jefferson nickel above MS66, and NGC has certified only 16 examples in their top population grade for this issue, MS67.
Given the cost of coin certification, only Gem-quality coins can be profitably certified.
In November 2018, an example graded MS64 by PCGS sold for $2.58 on eBay. Two weeks earlier, an MS66 (PCGS) sold for $56. The going rate for an MS65 is approximately $10.
In August 2016, these prices were completely blown away by the $30,550 realized at Stack’s Bowers’ ANA World’s Fair of Money Rarities Night Auction for a 1969-D Jefferson nickel graded MS65 FS by PCGS.
This incredible amount was achieved for two reasons. The first is that for years, specialized Jefferson nickel collectors have been pursuing fully-struck examples. Due to the nature of the metal, the speed at which nickels are struck for circulation, and the age of the master hubs, very few examples of this era are well struck. The typical example struck this year shows these details in an amorphous blob. The record-setting nickel sold by Stack’s Bowers is, to date, the only Full Steps (FS) nickel ever certified for this issue.
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 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 national motto IN GOD WE TRUST 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 1969 run clockwise along the right side behind Jefferson. A small five-pointed star divides the two inscriptions A small mint mark “D” is found beneath the date. Felix Schlag’s initials “FS” appear below the bust truncation (this feature was added in 1966).
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 1969-D Jefferson nickel is plain or smooth.
|Year Of Issue:||1969|
|Mint Mark:||D (Denver)|
|Alloy:||75% Copper, 25% Nickel|
|OBV Designer||Felix Schlag|
|REV Designer||Felix Schlag|