Collecting Jeffersons With Ease

Jefferson nickels
A relatively complete set of Jefferson nickels can still be pulled from circulation. Nowadays the set would include the 2004 Lewis and Clark "peace medal" design at left and the revamped 2005 portrait of Jefferson at right.  (Leon Worden/The Signal)

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, July 30, 2005

he Jefferson nickel series is one of the few you can collect primarily from circulation.
    Starting with the first year of issue: The two branch mint coins, 1938-D and 1938-S, were low-mintage coins but circulated well into the 1960s. The 1939-D is a low-mintage coin and was always hard to find in change, even in the 1940s. The 1939-S, another low-mintage branch-mint coin, circulated well into the 1960s and could always be found in change. The wartime issues of 1942 through 1945 cannot be found in change any more, due to their silver content, but circulated specimens can bought for less than $1 each in extra fine condition.
    From 1946 through the 1960s, no coin was hard to locate except the low-mintage 1950-D nickel. I managed to find only one in all the years since 1950. As a hoarded coin, there are far more "brilliant uncirculated" (BU) coins available for sale than lower-grade circulated specimens. The later-date coins, other than the proof-only S-mint issues, can be found in circulation. A few are known to be hard to locate due to hoarding, but none is considered scarce or even low-mintage.
    In 2004, two different reverses were issued to honor the Lewis and Clark Expedition. These circulate, although they are not as common as their mintages reflect. In 2005, two more reverse designs came out, and with the buffalo reverse came a new obverse portrait of Jefferson. Again, these commemorative issues seem to be available in BU rolls but are not as frequently found in circulation.
    A complete circulated set of Jefferson nickels can be bought for a modest price from many dealers, while an uncirculated set can also be found at an affordable price.
    Not counting varieties such as the 1939 doubled-die reverse or the 1943/2-P overdate, or any of the repunched and over-mint-marks, no coins in the series considered "rare" or even "very scarce." Some collectors specialize in "full steps" — the five or six steps seen on Monticello. For some years, such as the 1954-S, full steps are virtually unknown or very rare. For many other common dates, the full-step issue can be considered very scarce to rare. One cannot expect a full-step set when buying a BU set, and certainly not with a circulated set.
    However, gleaning through unsearched rolls of uncirculated Jefferson nickels from the 1950s and 1960s, one can expect to find some full-step specimens or even a mint error or variety.
    Since the Jefferson nickel seems so common, many collectors have not focused their attention on completing their sets, even in BU condition. Complete BU sets have appreciated significantly in recent years, and one can expect future appreciation, as well.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.