What Nickels Are Silver?

What Nickels Are Silver?

While it is often overlooked in everyday commerce today, the nickel has one of the most fascinating histories of all those used in American history. Some numismatists consider the half dime,  which was the forerunner to the nickel, the first coin the United States Mint ever issued.

The half-dime was struck sporadically from 1.35 g of .892 fine silver starting in 1792 through 1805 and then annually from 1829-1873. Silver did not return to five-cent denominated coinage in the United States until World War II.

The nickel was first introduced in 1866, however, this new coinage did not immediately result in the discontinuance of the half dime. The new coin took its name from its composition, 25% nickel, and the balance copper. Since its introduction, the nickel has been a mainstay of American commerce, except for the years 1922 and 1932 when none were struck.

What Year Were Nickels Silver?

In 1942 with wars raging in Europe and the Pacific, nickel became a prized war material. Congress authorized the production of nickels with 50% copper and 50% silver on March 27, 1942. The legislation gave the US Mint the authority to vary the metals' proportions according to practical concerns. The biggest among them was ensuring that vending machines did not reject the new coins. The mint settled on an alloy of 35% silver, 56% copper, and 9% manganese, which accomplished this goal.

Silver Nickel Years

All Nickels issued into circulation from 1942-1945 boast the 35% silver composition.

How to Identify Silver Nickels

The war nickels were early issues of the Jefferson nickel. They had a left-side portrait of President Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and his famous Virginia home, Monticello, on the reverse. The Jefferson nickel replaced the Buffalo nickel, which was issued from 1913-1938.

The mint wanted to make the coins easily identifiable so that they could be sorted and withdrawn from circulation once the production of coins with the metal nickel could be resumed. To this end, the mint struck mint marks above Monticello on the reverse.

This placement of the mint mark on the reverse is unique to Silver War Nickels and makes them relatively easy to identify. You can find Silver Nickels that hail from the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco branches of the United States Mint. In fact, these Nickels marked the first time a P, indicating the Philadelphia Mint, ever appeared on United States coinage.

Silver Nickel YearsSilver Nickel Years

What Year Did They Stop Making Silver Nickels?

In 1946, the year after the war ended, the Nickel returned to 75% copper and 25% nickel, which is its standard composition to this day.

How Much is a Silver Nickel Worth?

Although the intent was to remove them from circulation shortly after the war, silver nickels continued to be used in circulation for years. That changed when the value of silver rose. Today, a silver nickel's melt value is a little above $1.50. Of course, collectors who know the intriguing history of silver nickels also have the added benefit a story to tell.

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