This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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For bringing back fond memories of my hobby past, I find that nothing beats Jefferson nickels. This isn’t because I love the nickel beyond all other denominations, it is simply a function of being the one denomination that consistently sees older coins in circulation in my experience.
I ascribe this to the fact that it is the least changed of the denominations in the eyes of average Americans.
Yes, I know designs changed in 2004, 2005 and 2006 to date. However, most Americans never saw the designs of those years, or can’t remember that they did. To a collector, this might seem strange. In daily life, it seems ordinary.
Even though I am watching my change on a daily basis, I almost never see a 2004 or 2005 nickel. There are a few nickels of 2006 and later that I spot from time to time, but I would wager that most Americans somehow or other get to the Monticello side and think the coin is just another nickel and never really notice the new obverse portrait of Jefferson.
Is this because the nickel has sunk in value to the point that most people think as little as possible about it? I wonder.
This public indifference to the Jefferson nickel opens the door to the oldest of these coins still circulating in numbers larger than I can find cents of similar vintage. Many people remember hoarding cents either for the Wheat Ears design or the copper content of 1982 and before.
Common nickel memories seem to be nonexistent. The silver war nickel episode has gone out of shared memory except among collectors.
And this opens the door to what happened to me the other day. I was at a local gas station. I needed a small amount of gasoline for my lawn mower and I paid in cash.
The change included a 1947-S nickel, which practically jumped out of my hand. It had that look.
Collectors who searched through thousands of coins in the 1960s will know what I mean.
Nickels of approximately 20 years of age all had similar wear and coloration patterns that make up a composite look.
This coin was probably saved back then and only now has returned to duty in circulation as perhaps a filled Jefferson album was emptied and the coins sent to the bank.
It has no premium value. It is not worth keeping because of its state of preservation.
But that look is priceless. I can remember all the hours I spent looking through nickels as a kid. I am momentarily transported.
I exclaimed to the clerk, “Hey, look at that, a 1947-S.” I held it up.
She looked at me as if she expected I was about to claim that I had been shortchanged or thought it was counterfeit.
I explained the “S” meant it was struck in San Francisco.
After that flicker of apprehension crossed her face, she then resumed the cashier’s expression of “next customer” even though no one else was there.