Even when I was a kid, Jefferson nickels did not rate very highly among collectors. I might not have been able to explain it, but I got the message. As a result, the series was the last one I began collecting from circulation. That was 1968.
The choice at the time was stark. Either I began collecting the Jefferson nickel, or turn into nothing but a silver hoarder. I had pretty well filled up all the Whitman albums that I could reasonably expect to find in circulation.
Jefferson nickels allowed me to experience the last flush of excitement in filling holes at a fairly rapidly clip.
I was surprised by how easily found war nickels were. They were made of silver. During the course of 1968 we all watched circulating silver dimes, quarters and half dollars vanish completely.
A war nickel was 35-percent silver. At $2 an ounce, the coin had 11.26 cents worth of silver in it. At silver’s high for the year of $2.56, it had 14.4 cents worth of silver in it.
Federal regulations at the time prohibited melting U.S. silver coins, but the war nickel was overlooked, so some enterprising businesses offered home melting kits.
I never looked into that option very deeply. Even as a kid the idea of melting nickels did not appeal to me.
I was lucky enough to find an AU 1939-D nickel, but the 1950-D, which by then was entirely in collector hands, never came my way. Neither did the 1938-D or 1938-S nor the 1939-S.
So I used my paper route income to buy those missing Jeffersons.
I have forgotten the prices that I paid for the three early pieces. But I will always remember the $12.50 I paid for a BU 1950-D. That was about half the 1964 price, which I was quite well aware of. I thought I had a bargain. It wasn’t. Sure it was half the price of five years before, but Jeffersons were about to sink without a trace as far as average collectors were concerned. In the 1980s I could have purchased all I wanted for $5 each. I bought one more just to say I did.
Perhaps that means the Jefferson nickel series got into my bloodstream more than I will admit. I might have begun collecting them as a last hurrah, but once the set was started, I wanted to finish it.
The 1950-D taught me a lesson. If collectors lose interest in a series, even the key date will suffer a loss of value.
Supply and demand doesn’t work well if there is no demand, or not enough demand to keep up a current price level.
Had I been smart, I would have saved up more of my paper route money and bought a gold $20 Saint for $65. The fact that I didn’t shows how collectors used to feel that the empty holes in the Whitman album were mocking them until they were filled.
I did not buy the gold $20 until much later and at much higher prices. I did finish the Jefferson set, though.
I learned that the sensation of finishing something that I had started was a strong motivator. Maybe that is why so many of us who began collecting in the 1960s are still working on it.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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