ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Games, Toys, and Hobbies»
  • Collecting & Collections

Treasure in Your Pocket Change - WarTime Nickels (35% Silver)

Updated on November 22, 2014
Pcunix profile image

I was born in 1948 and spent most of my career as a self employed computer trouble shooter for Unix systems.


I suspect the 1950s were probably the ideal time for collecting U.S. coins from pocket change. You could find Mercury dimes and Buffalo nickels daily. Even the older Barber dimes and the Liberty or Shield nickels would turn up now and then. Standing Liberty Quarters and Half Dollars were common. Indian Head pennies were more unusual but not impossible to find and if you wanted real silver dollars - Peace and Morgan - all you needed to do was go to the bank and ask for them.

That's certainly not the case today. Even Wheat pennies, still easily found just a few years ago, are now scarce. Silver coins turn up now and then, but rarely.


But there is one coin series where valuable dates still exist in circulation.

That's the Jefferson Nickel, first minted in 1938 and unchanged through 2003. There are rare dates to be found, though not easily, of course. But there are certain nickels that are worth much more than face value that often pass unnoticed because most people don't know to look for them. I have scooped dozens out of low stakes poker pots and found many more in merchants change. The supply is slowly drying up, but they still exist and probably will for some time to come.


Wartime Silver Nickels


I'm talking about the so-called "War Time" nickels, minted from 1942 to 1945. Some of these contain silver, .062 ounces worth actually, which makes them worth approximately a dollar at current silver price.

Note that there is a refining cost; you can't just multiply the price of .999 silver times .062 ounces. Because of alloy (35% silver, 56% copper, 9% manganese) is harder to refine, these coins are worth far less than their apparent silver content. If dealers are offering a dollar for silver dimes (which have appx. .088 ounces of silver), they will probably be paying about 60 cents for these War Nickels.


Identifying Silver Nickels


So how do you spot a silver nickel in change? The color is a little different than other nickels, tending to be a dull or muddy light gray color. They also feel different when you run your fingers over them and will definitely sound much different when dropped on a hard surface. When these were more common in change, you'd sometimes see them with green corrosion and, on less worn coins, with loose laminated metal surfaces (apparently there was some difficulty in creating this alloy).

But the biggest clue is on the reverse side of the coin, right over the Monticello building.

Wartime Silver Nickel showing large mintmark. Found in change in the summer of 2010.
Wartime Silver Nickel showing large mintmark. Found in change in the summer of 2010.


The Big Mintmark


Do you see that big "P' over the building? That's the only clue you need. If you see a "P", a "D" or an "S", you have a War Time 35% silver nickel in your hand.

The picture that follows is a non-silver nickel - it has an "D" mintmark, but it's tiny and to the right of the building. Many nickels (all those minted in Philadelphia before 1980 ) have no mintmark at all, but all of the silver nickels have that large mint mark above Monticello.

Normal nickel before1980.  Note small "D" at right of building.  This is a 1953, a common date and mint.
Normal nickel before1980. Note small "D" at right of building. This is a 1953, a common date and mint.


The Why and the Wherefore


As noted above, these were a copper, silver and manganese alloy and were a bit difficult to make. Why would the Mint go to all that trouble?

The reason for the specific alloy was that the coin had to work in pay phones and vending machines just like a normal nickel. Not only did the weight have to match, but so did its electrical resistance. It took some experimentation to come up with a mix that would work, and this was the result.

But why do it at all? Why not just continue to make ordinary nickels?

The official explanation is that nickel was needed for tank armor, but there are some who dispute that. They point out that we were importing nickel from Canada in large amounts and did not need to take it out of our nickels, but did so for propaganda value. That could be true: the total nickel needed for all the nickel coins of the war years would have been less than 6,000 tons all together and Canada was sending us more than 100,000 tons yearly according to those doubters.


The 1942's


I said these were made from 1942 to 1945, but not all 1942 nickels are silver. The mints started making the silver versions rather late in the year; you need to look for that big mintmark. If it's not there, you don't have a silver nickel.

If you see a 1944 nickel without a mintmark, it's actually a counterfeit, but don't throw it away in disgust. See the "Henning Nickels" section below.

There is another very rare 1942 with a small "S" mintmark to the right of Monticello. It is so rare that only one is known, so that would be quite a find.


1943


There is a somewhat more valuable "1943/2" variety that is fairly hard to spot. Even with magnification, it's hard to notice the difference. It's worth looking hard though, because that particular variation is worth a lot more than any other silver nickel - probably at least $20 or so.

There is also a "Double Die Obverse" variety, which is quite rare in high grade, but again it's not easy to spot these.

1944 - the Henning Nickels


The most interesting thing about the 1944 nickels is that you might find one without the big mintmark on the reverse. These are counterfeits, but strangely enough people do buy them, sometimes rather openly. As counterfeits, they are of course illegal, but enough exist that there is a market nonetheless.

You might wonder what on earth would cause someone to counterfeit a lowly nickel?

Well, in 1954 (which was when the FBI caught wind of Francis Leroy Henning's private nickel production) a nickel had purchasing power roughly equal to 50 cents in 2010, so it wasn't as little money as you might think. Henning may have made half a million of these, though not all were dated 1944. It was the 1944's that tripped him up though, as he didn't put the big mintmark on his. That made it very obvious to the FBI and they soon tracked him down and arrested him.

Supposedly Henning made other dates because when he took some of his first efforts to the bank, a teller commented that it was odd that all the dates were the same. Having the extra expense may have upset his profit margins; after conviction he is said to have claimed that he actually lost money overall.



1945


I have found many very nice 1945's in change. There were a lot of these made - even the "S" (San Francisco) mint, which often produces less coins than the other mints, pumped out over 58 million of them in 1945, so they were not hard to find.

As in 1943, there is a 1945 "Double Die Obverse", not easy for the untrained eye and not worth as much as the 1943 version.


Some Screwups


There are some very rare 1942-P and 1943-P nickels (with the big mintmark on the back) that were produced on on ordinary copper-nickel blanks. If you were lucky enough to find one of these, you wouldn't want to toss it out - those would be worth a lot of money (and the likelihood of your finding one is very close to zero).

Also, some 1946 nickels were minted on silver blanks, but you aren't very likely to find one of those, either. They would not have the big mintmark so you'd have to go by feel or sound - which is easy to get wrong, of course.



Other Rarer Nickels


The silver nickels are not the only rare nickels to be found. The 1939-d and 1950-d nickels are worth much more than face value, but are very hard to find - I have never found either of these in change and started looking for them in 1955!




Happy Hunting


Now that you know what to look for, you should be able to find at least a few of these even today. No, they are not common any longer, but they do still exist: I found the one in the photo above just this year.  Happy hunting!



Do you know someone who should be reading this? Click the Share button below to send it to them easily or to post it to Facebook or Twitter.


Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Pcunix profile image
    Author

    Tony Lawrence 7 weeks ago from SE MA

    Yes, those are the silver versions.

  • profile image

    Lisa Hannon 7 weeks ago

    I didn't realize that I had five nickels ranging from dates 1943-1945. Two of them are the 1943 with large P mintmark above the Monticello on the obverse side. I think they may be worth a little more. I am new. Any feedback

  • Pcunix profile image
    Author

    Tony Lawrence 4 years ago from SE MA

    Never heard of that, sorry.

  • Eddie Kemp profile image

    Eddie Kemp 4 years ago

    I was going thru my Jefferson war nickels and I got a 1944 d but the mint mark is on the side not above got any clue

  • Pcunix profile image
    Author

    Tony Lawrence 5 years ago from SE MA

    It's not extremely valuable, but it is worth more than 5 cents, yes.

  • profile image

    ernesto maynard 5 years ago

    Hi I'm from Panama, I have a coin of 5 cents Jefferson 1942 with S mint on the back, you think it's valuable, ernestomaynard@yahoo.com

  • Pcunix profile image
    Author

    Tony Lawrence 6 years ago from SE MA

    Non-sliver 42's made in Philadelphia have no mintmark.

  • profile image

    matt 6 years ago

    I found a '42 with no mintmark at all, is that anything? Not familiar with coins at all.

  • Pcunix profile image
    Author

    Tony Lawrence 6 years ago from SE MA

    I cannot imagine. A fake? Doesn't sound like a brockage http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brockage - could it actually be an S with the bottom loop gone ? Send me a picture..

  • profile image

    Clifton Coon 6 years ago

    ive found a 1943 war nickel although the p mint mark is facing the left hand side when viewing the coin from the back side,any ideals on what i may have ?

  • Joe Macho profile image

    Zach 6 years ago from Colorado

    These are definitely my favorite Nickels. I've been pulling them from circulation as often as I see them. I was never aware about Francis Leroy Henning, so thanks for enlightening me.

  • cathylynn99 profile image

    cathylynn99 6 years ago from northeastern US

    my mom collects coins. have already passed this info on to her. thanks.

  • H.Kephart profile image

    H.Kephart 7 years ago from United States

    You know I was always so concerned with pre-65 dimes and quarters that I completely overlooked the war nickels. Nice article!

  • givingfairy profile image

    givingfairy 7 years ago from some place in the Big Apple

    i have a few coins in my collections but no nickels. Now that you've made such useful information available, I shall definitely be on the lookout.

  • Pcunix profile image
    Author

    Tony Lawrence 7 years ago from SE MA

    Odd - I still find them several times a year..

  • AlanSwenson profile image

    AlanSwenson 7 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

    Excellent detailed hub...war nickels are super hard to find, I have only found one in change ever, but still fun to look.

working

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

Show Details
Necessary
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Features
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Marketing
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Statistics
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)