If you've got a few Jefferson nickels in your pocket, give them a closer look. In circulation since 1938, the Jefferson nickel is something you see in your pocket change every day. However, some examples are worth far more than five cents. In fact, the most valuable Jefferson nickels are worth thousands of dollars. Learn how to spot these treasures so you don't accidentally put them in a parking meter or gumball machine.
How to Identify a Jefferson Nickel
The nickel has had many designs over the years, but the Jefferson version is what most people associate with the five-cent coin in the United States. The coin, which features a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the front, became the official nickel design in 1938. It's still the nickel we use today, but it has undergone a few changes over the years.
- Portrait of Thomas Jefferson - Every Jefferson nickel has a portrait of Thomas Jefferson on the front of the coin. In coins before 2005, Jefferson is in profile, but in coins since 2005, he's in a three-quarter pose looking out from the coin.
- Inscriptions on front - Jefferson nickels are inscribed with the words "IN GOD WE TRUST," as well as the word "Liberty." In the earlier versions, "Liberty" is stamped in capital letters, but in the 2005 and later versions, it's in Jefferson's own handwriting. Both versions also have a stamp of the year.
- Image of Monticello - On the back, this five-cent coin always features a picture of Jefferson's home, Monticello. The name "Monticello" is also written under the building.
- Inscriptions on back - In addition to "Monticello," the back reads "E PLURIBUS UNUM," "FIVE CENTS," AND "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA."
25 Most Valuable Jefferson Nickels Ever Sold
By looking at auction records, especially at places like Heritage Auctions, you can get a sense about what makes these nickels valuable and what to watch for in your pocket change. The following are the most expensive Jefferson nickels sold.
1938-D Full Steps - $33,600
Depending on the year, it can be somewhat rare for a Jefferson nickel to clearly show all the steps of Monticello on the back. For the first year issue of this coin, it's very difficult to find a full steps version in near mint condition. A very fine example of the 1938 Jefferson nickel from the Denver mint fetched $33,600 at auction in 2022.
1949-D D Over S Full Steps - $32,900
Perhaps to fulfill the demand for nickels in the Midwest, the San Francisco Mint sent a die for the 1949 nickel to Denver. There, the die was used to stamp the nickel but then overstamped with a D to indicate the mint. This overstamping makes the D over S nickel rare, and it's especially rare in the full steps version and near mint condition. One in amazing shape sold for $32,900 in 2014.
1964 Special Mint Set Full Steps - $32,900
A special mint set (SMS) is similar to a proof set, made in small quantities to test dies and provide beautiful coins for collectors. Only about 20 to 50 of the 1964 SMS nickels exist, and they are especially valuable in excellent condition and showing the full steps of Monticello. One sold for $32,900 in 2016.
1942-D D Over Horizontal D - $32,200
In 1942, the Denver Mint stamped a few nickels with a horizontal D and then stamped over it with a normal D. It's estimated that only about 10 coins exist in perfect condition with this minting error, making this one of the rarest Jefferson nickels you can find. An example in mint condition with full steps sold in 2006 for $32,200.
1940 Reverse of 1938 - $28,750
One interesting minting error is when the wrong year's die is used to stamp the reverse, or back, side of the coin. That happened in 1940 when the 1938 die was used for a few nickels. You can identify these by looking carefully at the steps of Monticello. If the sides of the steps are wavy and less distinct, you may have this subtle and valuable minting error. One in mint condition sold for $28,750 in 2011.
1953-S Full Steps - $24,000
A particularly rare example to find with full steps, the 1953 issue of the Jefferson nickel from the San Francisco Mint can be very valuable. There are only 24 known examples with full steps, and one sold in 2019 for $24,000.
1939 Reverse of 1940 - $23,500
Another example of a coin being stamped with the reverse design of a different year, the 1939 Jefferson nickel with a reverse of 1940 is a valuable coin, especially in excellent condition. More than 120 million of this reverse were minted, and about 40,000 still survive. Very few are in good enough shape to show the steps. If the full steps show, this coin could be worth thousands. One sold in 2014 for $23,500.
1964 Full Steps With Satin Finish - $22,800
The full steps version of the 1964 Jefferson nickel is rare, but it's even rarer in a soft satin finish. Only about 19 with this finish exist, probably part of an unofficial mint set. One in exceptional condition sold in 2019 for $22,800.
1962 Full Steps - $21,150
Although 1962 Jefferson nickels are extremely common, the high number that were minted means the dies that created them became worn. Distinct full steps coins are extremely rare for this reason, and it's very uncommon for one to survive in nearly uncirculated condition. An example sold in 2013 for $21,150.
1939 Doubled Monticello - $20,562
If you look at the reverse side of some 1939 Jefferson nickels, you may notice that there's a double stamping. This shows up especially well in the word "MONTICELLO" and in "FIVE CENTS." No matter what condition these coins are in, they tend to be valuable. In near mint condition, they are extremely rare, with one selling for $20,562 in 2016.
2000-P Two-Headed Nickel - $20,520
When a coin is struck twice but the planchet (or coin blank) is rotated between the double strike, it creates a very rare and interesting minting error. This is especially uncommon with the front or obverse side of the coin, and there's only one known example of this happening. A 2000 Jefferson nickel struck at the Philadelphia mint features two overlapping heads and sold for $20,520 in 2018.
1964-D Repunched Mintmark - $19,800
You may need a magnifying loupe to see the repunched and overlapping D over D mintmark in some 1964 Jefferson nickels from the Denver mint. These coins are very rare, with only eight examples known; however, they're also very easy to miss. It's worth looking closely at 1964-D nickels just in case, since one in beautiful condition sold for $19,800 in 2022.
1941 Proof Minting - $18,800
Although 18,700 proof copies of the 1941 nickel were struck, most entered circulation. Very few were set aside for collection, and of those, there aren't many in near mint condition. The finest known example sold in 2013 for $18,800.
2007 George Washington Dollar Over Jefferson Nickel - $17,625
A particularly dramatic minting error, a 2007 George Washington dollar coin was struck on top of a Jefferson nickel. The dollar coin strike is off center, so you can still see that the coin is also a nickel. It sold for $17,625 in 2016.
1950-D Full Steps - $17,250
The rarest Jefferson nickel in terms of the original minting, the 1950 issue from the Denver Mint was under three million minted. However, collectors at the time were aware of the low mintage and immediately began hoarding the coins and storing them carefully to preserve their condition. Despite the low mintage, they are fairly easy to find in uncirculated condition. Still, few of the coins were sharp and clear, and it's rare to see the full steps of Monticello on one. An example sold in 2006 for $17,250.
1943/2-P Full Steps - $16,675
A highly collectible mint mistake is the 1943/2 Jefferson nickel. The 2 and the 3 overlap, and it's especially rare to find examples with both dates clearly visible. It's even rarer to find these with full steps on Monticello, and they are very valuable. One sold for $16,675 in 2008.
1952-D Full Steps - $16,450
Full steps coins are extremely hard to find, and the 1952 issue from the Denver Mint is especially coveted by collectors. One showing the complete steps sold at auction in 2015 for $16,450. It was a beautiful example with subtle colors in the patina.
1951 Full Steps - $16,450
In the early 1950s, it became less popular for people to save rolls of uncirculated coins. This means that the 1951 nickels mostly entered circulation and became worn as a result. They are very rare in near mint condition with crisp full steps. One sold for $16,450 in 2014.
1979 Susan B. Anthony Dollar Over Jefferson Nickel - $15,275
Like the rare and valuable George Washington dollar over a nickel, the Susan B. Anthony overstamp is also worth a lot of money. This minting mistake has the image of Susan B. Anthony stamped over the top of Monticello on a Jefferson nickel. While overstamps like this are very rare, they are even rarer with two separate years. A 1979 Susan B. Anthony over a 1978 nickel sold at auction in 2014 for $15,275.
1953 Deep Cameo - $15,275
If you look very carefully at Jefferson's portrait on lots of nickels, you'll notice that some feature crisper, deeper images. The deep cameo is hard to find, especially for 1953, and it's even rarer in exceptional condition. One sold for $15,275 in 2013.
1953-D Full Steps - $15,275
Although 1953 nickels from the Denver Mint aren't rare, those with full steps are less common. Those with full steps in excellent condition are hard to find, and they tend to fetch high prices at auction. One sold for $15,275 in 2016.
1940 Proof - $15,275
1940 Jefferson nickels are rare, so they tend to be valuable because of that. However, they are even scarcer in excellent condition. One with almost no flaws and beautiful rainbow patina rings sold for $15,275 in 2017.
1947-S Full Steps - $14,950
Full steps coins are extremely rare for some years and from some mints, and the 1947 nickel from the San Francisco Mint is one these. Finding such a coin in excellent condition is not common, and one very fine example sold for $14,950 in 2007.
1943-S on Steel Cent - $14,950
In 1943, the US was in the middle of World War II, and copper needed to be reserved for the war efforts. 1943 pennies were made of steel as a result, and a few of the steel planchets actually got minted as Jefferson nickels at the San Francisco Mint. They mostly entered circulation, but one near mint condition example fetched $14,950 at auction in 2010.
1942-P Cameo - $14,100
In the early 1940s, cameo coins with deep texture were very rare. A 1942 proof from the Philadelphia Mint exhibits exceptional contrast and is in beautiful shape. It sold for $14,100 in 2014.
What to Look for in Jefferson Nickels
Jefferson nickels have been around for a long time, and they're in almost any handful of pocket change. However, it's worth taking a closer look at them to see if you have something might be of value. Examine them for the following signs of a rare coin:
- Early dates - In a Jefferson nickel collection, coins from 1938 to 1961 are often the most valuable. This doesn't mean that every coin from this era is worth a lot, but those early dates are a good starting point.
- Full steps - Many of the most valuable Jefferson nickels have full steps on Monticello, so get out a magnifying glass to check. Five steps are good, and six are even better. The steps should be as crisp as possible.
- Uncirculated condition - Jefferson nickels in uncirculated condition are almost always worth more than the same coin with wear. Look for pristine examples.
- Minting errors - Coins often get their value from rare minting errors. Look closely to see if your Jefferson nickel has anything strange going on. Echoes of dates and words are a sign something may be off.
Know Which Coins Are Worth a Second Look
Even though you might not have a Jefferson nickel worth thousands of dollars, you could still have a valuable five-cent piece. Knowing how to spot the rarest coins can help you keep an eye out for special nickels that might be worth a closer look.