There is simply no doubt that the 1938-S Jefferson nickel should be a much better coin than its current $8.50 price in MS-65 suggests. Even the MS-65 with full steps at $165 is inexpensive.
The period just prior to 1938 was a time when there was a significant, growing interest in coin collecting. The hobby had actually experienced some real growth during the Great Depression. Many Americans sat around their radios and listened to early coin dealer B. Max Mehl explain the countless virtues of coin collecting. The growing interest helped to make information and supplies available. Folders, albums and guides started to appear in the 1930s, and that further inspired new collectors.
New collectors convinced dealers to save extra examples of new dates as they were issued. Buffalo nickel dates as far back as the 1931-S show thousands of examples in some Mint State grades. There are almost 4,000 examples of the 1937 in MS-64 just at the Professional Coin Grading Service. That?s just one grade at one service. The final 1938-D shows more than 17,000 coins in both MS-64 and MS-65.
Clearly there was a substantial increase in saving of new nickels as they were released, which was only naturally going to increase with the first year of a new design.
The 1938-S had a mintage of just 4,105,000. Even though it was higher than the 1939-D and 1950-D, it still has to be called a lower-mintage date. In fact, the 1938-S is one of very few dates to have a VG-8 price over $1.
The 1938-S has never done that well in terms of price in Mint State. A large part of the reason is directly related to the heavy saving when it was issued. We aren?t certain of how many examples were saved. As recently as a couple years ago a major auction had original rolls of all of the 1938 nickels including the 1938-S. Certainly there are still some supplies.
It is basically impossible to find any answers in the grading service totals. At $8.50 in MS-65, it doesn?t make much sense to send the coins in for grading. That said, some have sent them in but the numbers aren?t conclusive.
It?s important to note that the price of the 1950-D Jefferson nickel has increased dramatically in the past couple years. The 1938-S has not moved in price, but it seems likely that one must follow the other.
Although the 1938-S might have been heavily saved back in 1938 and 1939, the numbers are unlikely to have been greater than the numbers of the 1950-D. If the 1950-D supply is not large enough to support its older prices, then it would seem likely that the 1938-S supply in Mint State will also run out. Then we finally might see the 1938-S at a higher price.