The United States nickel is a five-cent coin that remains in circulation today. It is well-known for bearing the former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson’s face. However, numismatists (collectors of currency) possess many different types of nickels. The United States first minted nickels in 1866. Almost all were originally made from silver and gold. From 1867 to 1868, the US issued about 30 million nickels, and the coin became immensely popular for its convenience—after all, bottles of Coca-Cola only cost five cents for 73 years.
Today, rare nickels are benefiting from revived growing demand among collectors. And, although many of the most valuable nickels are no longer in circulation, you may still be able to find them at auctions, antique shops, estate sales, and sometimes even at yard sales.
In this blog post, you will learn how to determine the value of nickels and how to identify a rare nickel’s worth based on its condition and price.
Brief History of Nickels
Nickles date back to the American Civil War. In 1861, when Southern states began to break away from the Union and the Civil War commenced, America, along with its currency, had a crisis underway. Widespread panic caused people to hoard money and other valuables, especially precious metals like silver and gold. US coins practically disappeared overnight, and the Mint did not have enough resources to keep up with demands. As a result of the lack of coinage, it was impossible to complete essential daily transactions such as buying food and sending mail.
When the war came to an end in 1865, it took several months for silver and gold to file back into circulation. However, war production contributed to the country’s expanded industrial capacity. Thus, more common metals, including nickel, became available in larger quantities. Since nickel is not a precious metal, people were not interested in hoarding it.
In 1866, former US President Andrew Johnson approved a bill authorizing the coinage of nickel and copper-based five-cent pieces.
Top 10 Most Valuable Nickels
According to Invaluable, these are among the most valuable nickels in the United States:
- 1913 Liberty Head V Nickel — $3,737,500
- 1918 7-D Buffalo Nickel — $350,750
- 1926 S Buffalo Nickel — $322,000
- 1916 Buffalo Nickel — $281,750
- 1913 D Buffalo Nickel — $143,750
- 1917 S Buffalo Nickel — $138,000
- 1920 D Buffalo Nickel — $138,000
- 1867 Shield Nickel — $132,250
- 1918 S Buffalo Nickel — $125,350
- 1927 S Buffalo Nickel — $125,350
How to Determining the Value of Rare Nickels
If you’re looking to start a coin collection, the best way to determine the general value of nickels is to use a magnifying glass to inspect the coin’s condition and mintmarks, as well as to identify rare varieties. Specifically, here are some key factors to look for when examining your coins.
A nickel’s condition is one of the main determinants of its value. The different coin grades are as follows:
- Poor (PO-1). Also called Basal State, these coins are nearly unrecognizable. In most cases, parts of the design and/or date are already missing.
- Fair (FR-2). Though the date should be visible enough to identify the coin, the lettering may be gone and the images are hardly visible.
- About Good (AG-3). Also called “Almost Good,” most of the coin’s design is outlined. Still, the rims may have worn far enough into the design to erase parts of the lettering.
- Good (G-4, 6). The coin’s general design remains outlined, but some parts are difficult to recognize. Even though people may refer to these coins as being in “Good” condition, they are still worn coins.
- Fine (F-12, 15). The seven letters of the word “LIBERTY” must be visible with only minor wear and tear on the coin.
- Very Fine (VF-20, 25, 30, 35). The general details of the coin remain visible, but it has light to medium signs of wear. The seven letters of the word LIBERTY are still strongly visible.
- Extremely Fine (XF-40, 45). Some traces of mint luster may be present, but the coin has light signs of wear and tear overall.
- About Uncirculated (AU-50, 53, 55, 58). The coin has extremely light wear with barely noticeable traces of friction on the highest points.
Keep in mind that these grades only serve as general guidelines. Standards can still vary among types and by date.
Mintmarks and Rarity
Mintmarks play an important role in helping identify which of the United States Mint facilities was responsible for stamping the coins. The absence or presence of a mintmark can contribute to the value of a nickel. In most cases, a mintmark is on the coin itself and often written in the description. If not, then your nickel was most likely minted in Philadelphia.
Here are the mint marks that appear on U.S. coins:
- W. West Point (1983 to date; now mints collector coins only)
- S. San Francisco (1954 to date; now mints collector coins only)
- P. Philadelphia
- O. New Orleans (1838-1909)
- D. Dahlonega, Georgia (Gold only, 1838-1861)
- D. Denver (1906 to date; easily distinguishable from Dahlonega because of the different time frames)
- C. Charlotte (Gold only, 1838-1861)
- CC. Carson City (1870-1893)
Mintmarks that coincide with rare dates can influence a coin’s overall value. For instance, a 1939 Jefferson nickel may not command a high price, but one with a “D” mintmark may increase the dollar value. Coins minted between 1942 and 1945 with a large “S,” “P,” or “D” on the reverse contain the precious metal silver, and therefore, they are also rising rapidly in price.
Trade Coins for Dollar Bills
Breakthrough inventions in the 20th Century—including mass-produced coin boards and the growing availability of information about coins—helped enhance the appeal of coin collecting to people from all parts of the world. If you are one of such collectors and are looking to sell some of the coins in your possession, you can determine the fair market value of your rare nickels by following this guide or by consulting our appraiser. To get started, contact us now or visit us in Scottsdale or Chandler, AZ.