As with all war nickels, the 1943-S Jefferson nickel contained the updated wartime alloy of 35% silver, 9% manganese, and 56% copper authorized in late March 1942. Instituted to reduce unnecessary demand for strategically important copper and nickel, these new coins not only created an interesting series for future numismatists but they also had a dramatic impact on the war. According to the United States Mint, this simple change saved 4,900 tons of copper and 300 tons of nickel for the war effort.
It is important to note however that, as Mark A. Benvenuto suggested in his 2000 article in The Numismatist, the nickel saved as a result of this change was perhaps more of a placebo for the public to feel more invested in the war effort.
Nevertheless, copper was used for munitions and electrical wiring, and nickel was still a vital materiel. So vital, in fact, that journalist James Gray wrote in 1947 that “given the chance, Hitler would willingly have traded the whole Silesian basin, and thrown in Hermann Goering and Dr. Goebbels to boot, for a year’s possession of the Sudbury Basin” (Sudol, 2009). The Sudbury Basin in Ontario, Canada, is one of the largest nickel-producing regions in the world, and at the time produced nearly 80% of the world’s nickel and 95% of the allies’ requirements. This nickel ore was used in everything from tank armor to lightweight bridges, and even the B-29 Superfortress bomber.
The San Francisco Mint was busy, and the massive 1943 issuance of 104,060,000 coins represented a 68% increase in production from the previous year. So large was this mintage that the San Francisco facility struck nearly as many coins in 1943 (92.23%) as in 1942, 1944, and 1945 combined.
The 1943-S War Nickel in Today’s Market
Top population coins, graded MS 68, currently sell for upwards of $625 USD. However, in 2021, an example sold for $1,560 and again for $3,600 in 2019. In MS 67, there is a significant premium for coins with the Full Steps (FS) designation. Straight grade examples are currently selling for $50 to $75 while coins designated FS (with either five or six steps visible) are selling for $250 to $450. After a one-point drop in grade to MS 66, the value of the 1943-S FS nickel plummets to between $75 and $100. However, the FS designation still retains a 2-3x premium over non-FS examples, which sell for $20 to $40. As with most other grades, these prices have been declining since a spike in 2016-7.
While coins certified MS 65 are worth approximately $20 to $35, some examples may sell for as much as $50 to $65. By this grade, the Full Steps premium is no longer too significant, with examples selling for $25 to $40. These same prices also hold true for MS 64s. For coins graded MS 63, the price continues to drop. While several coins have sold for upwards of $54, most examples are worth less than $10.
In About Uncirculated, these coins sell for roughly $2 to $5 apiece.
Fully circulated 1943-S war nickels are usually sold by the roll for around $45 to $50. If purchased individually, all examples in low grades sell for between $1 and $2. This is due to the coin’s silver content, which is worth roughly $1.25 at the time of writing.
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.
Jefferson Nickel Design
A left-facing bust of Founding Father President Thomas Jefferson, including a colonial-era queue 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 Jefferson’s head almost touches the rim, and the barest of truncations is visible at the bottom where his left shoulder meets the edge of the coin. The 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 1943 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 Mint’s revisions forced upon the coin’s designer Felix Schlag–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 large “S” mint mark appears above Monticello’s dome to identify war nickels struck from the copper-silver-manganese alloy.
The edge of the 1943-S Jefferson nickel is plain.
|Year Of Issue:||1943|
|Mint Mark:||S (San Francisco)|
|Alloy:||56% Copper, 35% Silver, 9% Manganese|
|OBV Designer||Felix Schlag|
|REV Designer||Felix Schlag|
* * *
Miller, 2019 – http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vol20/no1/page31-eng.asp