I’ve spoken about Wartime Nickels in the past, but thought I would build a post just about them. After all, I did build a nice set of MS-67 certified silver nickels. One nice thing about these Jefferson Nickels is that you can find them occasionally in change and nickel rolls.
Silver in Nickel?
When you think about it, it sounds strange to find silver in a nickel. The original five cent pieces here in the United States, known as Half Dimes, were made of silver. Half Dimes were minted between 1793 and 1873. When silver was being hoarded during the Civil War, it was decided to make five cent pieces with a copper and nickel composition, beginning in 1866, giving the coin its new name, Nickel. When the US was going through a depression in 1873, silver coins like the Three Cent Silver and Half Dime were eliminated, and the Nickel coin became the only five cent pieces in the country.
Nickel designs changed a few times since its beginnings in 1866. The Shield Nickel was the first one from 1866 to 1883, then the Liberty Nickel from 1883 to 1913, and then the Buffalo Nickel between 1913 and 1938. These three nickels were composed of 75% copper and 25% nickel. The Jefferson Nickel would also start with the same composition in 1938.
World War II Changes the Nickel
With the entry of the United States into World War II, nickel became a critical war material.
On March 27, 1942, Congress authorized a nickel made of 50% copper and 50% silver, but gave the Mint the authority to vary the proportions, or add other metals, in the public interest. The Mint’s greatest concern was in finding an alloy which would use no nickel, but still satisfy counterfeit detectors in vending machines. An alloy of 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese proved suitable, and this alloy began to be coined into nickels from October 1942 in Philadelphia and San Francisco. The only silver nickel proof would also be minted in Philadelphia in 1942. All three mints would produce these nickels in 1943, 1944 and 1945. In the hopes of making them easy to sort out and withdraw after the war, the Mint struck all “war nickels” with a large mint mark appearing above Monticello. The mint mark P for Philadelphia was the first time that mint’s mark had appeared on a US coin.
The prewar composition and smaller mint mark (or no mint mark for Philadelphia) were resumed in 1946. The next time a “P” mint mark would appear on a US coin would be the 1979 Susan B Anthony Dollar.
One of the popular error coins was the overdated 1943-P nickels. Here a die for the previous year was reused, allowing a “2” to be visible under the “3”. In addition, a counterfeit number of 1944 nickels are known without the large “P” mint mark. These were produced in 1954 by Francis LeRoy Henning,
who also made counterfeit nickels with at least four other dates.
My Silver Wartime Nickel Set
Back in 2001, I decided to build a War Nickel Set. There are only 11 of them after all. The nickels would be certified by NGC, the National Guaranty Corporation, and have a grade of Mint State 67. Mint State 67 shows the original mint luster while being able to afford them. There are a few Mint State 68 ones out there, but expect to pay thousands of dollars for them.
Within four months, I purchase 9 of the silver nickels between Coin Shows and EBay. Before I was able to purchase the 10th nickel, I was laid off of work. It would be 15 years before I purchased the last two – the 1942-S and 1945-P. The only one I paid over a hundred dollars for was the 1945-P, which shows that it would be an easy short set to complete.
Once I completed the set, my friend suggested adding a 12th silver nickel by obtaining the 1942-P Silver Proof Nickel. So, I was determined to get one when I went the New Hampshire Coin Show. Here’s a tip for you. When you get a slabbed 1942 Proof Nickel, make sure it says “silver” or “type 2”. There were proof 1942 nickels minted without the silver and may be marked as “type 1”. It was also suggested I look for the 1943/42 error nickel, but I said “No. That’s enough”.
This table shows the mintages of each silver nickel as well as the NGC and PCGS populations in Mint States 67 and 68 as of May, 2018 to show how few have been certified in those grades.
|Mintage||NGC Census||PCGS Census|
*The 1943-D nickel I have has Full Steps (FS) on the Monticello Building on the reverse.
The Simplest US Silver Collection
If you’re looking for an easy silver set to collect, the Wartime Nickel Set is the way to go. The five nickels at the top of this post were found in change, so keep checking. A circulating set won’t cost you much at all and an Uncirculated Set may take a short time to do, but worth it especially if the price of silver goes up. So, would you consider building your own Silver Wartime Set?