1942 Nickel: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide
The 1941 Jefferson nickel is a fascinating coin specimen, albeit not exactly a collector’s dream.
Its mintage came during an extremely tumultuous time in the world landscape, serving as the last full pre-World War II coin of the Jefferson nickel series.
The next year, its entire composition would be altered for nearly four years as wartime gripped the nation and made such a complete composition overhaul a tactical must.
The Jefferson nickel’s roots trace back to the ignominious end of the Buffalo nickel’s 25-year run at the end of 1937.
The Buffalo nickel had been the source of several universal striking issues since its inception in 1913, leaving Mint officials chomping at the bit to replace it when its mandatory 25-year term in circulation ended.
In late January 1938, the United States Mint announced a public competition to create the new nickel design, with a first prize of $1,000 to the winner.
The competition looked to be a bust with very few submissions having reached the Mint by mid-March.
That was extremely misleading.
A rush of entries were received in the last month, with the judges ultimately viewing 390 entries in total on April 20th.
Four days later, German-born Felix Schlag was named the winner of the competition.
Schlag had come to America just nine years before, riding high after winning multiple awards as an artist in his native Europe.
However, Schlag’s win comes with a very sad note attached – the $1,000 which he won was spent on a funeral after the untimely death of his wife.
The original Jefferson nickel (and current Jefferson nickel) was made of a composition of 75% copper and 25% nickel.
However, the entry of the United States in the World War II saw nickel become a critical war material for the nation’s military.
Seeking to reduce domestic usage of the material, Congress authorized a nickel made of half copper and half silver on March 27, 1942.
The Mint's was concerned with this particular composition and was given the leeway to change it, with worries arising that counterfeit detectors in vending machines would reject the alloy.
Working tirelessly to find a compromise, the Mint settled on an alloy of 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese which was used from October 1942 until the end of the war in 1945.
This makes the 1941 Jefferson nickel the last copper-nickel hybrid nickel in the series until after wartime.
Mints: Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco
- Overall: 300,142,000
- Philadephia: 203,265,000
- Denver: 53,432,000
- San Francisco: 43,445,000
Weight: 5 g
Diameter: 21.21 mm
Edge Type: Plain
Composition: 0.750 copper, 0.250 nickel
Designer: Felix Schlag
Obverse Features: Felix Schlag’s side profile of Thomas Jefferson was one of the few aspects of his competition-winning design which didn’t stir controversy or garner ire from Mint officials (more on that later).
Based off a bust by famous sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon which can currently be found in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Schlag’s representation uses subtle shading and intricate soft line work to render Jefferson with both grace and an air of authority.
On the left of Jefferson’s bust in a rainbow on the left edge of the coin is the phrase “IN GOD WE TRUST.” To Jefferson’s right is the word “LIBERTY” followed by the mintage year.
heir layout mirrors the phrasing on the left of the obverse.
“LIBERTY” and the mintage year are separated by a miniature star which can easily mistaken for a basic dot on first glance.
Reverse Features: Schlag’s original design for the reverse of the Jefferson nickel featured a three-quarters viewof Monticello, along with a tree.
However, Mint officials nixed the design – mistaking the tree for a palm tree and filing complaints with the incorrect assumption that Jefferson could never have grown such a tree at Monticello.
A formal request was sent to Schlag who was already besieged by other commissions.
When he was finally able to redo the design a few weeks later, he eschewed the originality of his first design for a very plain, head-on view of Monticello which could be mistaken for many an official building if not for the word “MONTICELLO” in plain type below it.
The phrases “E PLURIBUS UNUM” and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” mirror each other in rainbows at the top and bottom of the reverse respectively.
n a smaller rainbow inside of “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” on the bottom of the reverse lies the phrase “FIVE CENTS” with a generous space in between the words.
Errors and Variations
With over 300 million 1941 Jefferson nickels minted, the amount of die errors and die gouges floating around is pretty staggering.
Valuation on these varies wildly based on the pervasiveness of the error and the condition of the coin itself.
The most interesting and rare 1941 Jefferson nickel isn’t from 1941 at all, though!
It is actually a 1942 Jefferson nickel not made out of the World War II-dictated copper/silver/manganese composition, but instead the pre-war copper/nickel composition.
Furthermore, its reverse is actually that of a 1941-S nickel!
According to legend, an obverse die had been changed correctly to 1942 at the San Francisco Mint.
For reasons unknown, a Mint employee made the decision to try out the new die with leftover planchets from 1941 made of the copper/nickel hybrid.
In another head-scratching turn, the employee also changed out the reverse die to the 1941 Monticello reverse with an “S” mint mark above the dome of Monticello.
No 1942-S “war-time” nickels were officially made with the copper/nickel composition, making this weird mish-mash the only known of its kind in the world!
Thus, its value is off the charts – considered priceless by many as a one-of-a-kind error in a widely-minted series.
Grading and Condition Issues
To grade a circulated 1941 Jefferson nickel on your own, the first thing you should take a look at are the pillars of Monticello on the reverse – most notably the second porch pillar from the right of the coin.
At the Very Fine level (VF-20), this pillar is plain as day to see and has very solid line definition.
The more deteriorated and undefined this pillar, the worse condition your coin is in.
For a circulated coin to reach a grade of Extremely Fine (EF-40), all pillars should be visible along with some visibility for the base of the triangle above the pillars.
On the obverse, Jefferson’s cheekbone, hairlines, and eyebrow should be defined with minimal wear.
The real money for 1941 Jefferson nickels comes at Grade 65 or above, both in uncirculated and proof form.
This is hard to achieve for a coin nearly 80 years old, considering grading standards include having no trace of wear anywhere on the coin with the exception of faint blemishing.
If your coin is not approaching or in this condition, you’re looking at a coin with minimal collector’s value on the open market.
The market for circulated 1941 Jefferson nickels hasn’t yet developed when it comes to collector’s value, with coins ranging from two to six times face value depending on overall condition.
Without nickel content to increase melt value and with over 300 million coins minted, circulated 1941 Jefferson nickels are unlikely to see too much of a valuation spike in the near future.
As for uncirculated 1941 Jefferson nickels, collector’s gems are only found at the top of the grading spectrum and in proof form.
n fact, the value is multiplied by around 16 on the collector’s market when you jump from a Grade 60 to a Grade 65.
Proofs are the real collector’s key here, trading at just under $100 on average at the time of this writing.
Good (G-4): $0.10
Very Good (VG-8): $0.15
Fine (F-12): $0.20
Extremely Fine (VF-20): $0.20
About Uncirculated (AU-50): $0.52
Uncirculated (MS-60): $0.78
Proof (PF-65): $99.00