It’s so easy to forget that what really matters in the price of a coin, other than the demand, is not the number that were made but rather the number that survive to the present day in a certain grade. It is repeated over and over again in the case of coins that are less available than we might expect. More often than not, the reason the coin is not as available as the mintage would suggest is that there was some reason why it did not survive.
We see that in the case of some Morgan dollars, which were melted in large numbers. In other cases, it might be simply that the coins from that facility did not survive in the numbers we might expect for other reasons. Whatever the reason, the result is the same in that the coin, which is expected to be relatively common, turns out to be tougher.
However, this works the other way as well. Take the 1938-D Jefferson nickel. The 1938-D today, in the minds of those who study mintages, has to be called a real sleeper. After all, the mintage of the 1938-D was just 5,376,000 and that is very low. Certainly, having that low a mintage, the assumption would be that the 1938-D would be fairly expensive. However, it is currently priced at just $20 in MS-65, while an example with full steps in MS-65 is just at $95.
The reason for these lower-than-expected prices is that the 1938-D was definitely saved. Back in 1938, there was a surprising amount of saving in the case of both Buffalo nickels and the new Jefferson. We have no particular reason for people assembling rolls of the old and new nickels, but they did – and a lot of them. In fact, it is not that unusual, even today, to see an offering of original uncirculated rolls from the period.
There is a lack of price movement, and that is probably a result of a very solid supply and a lack of demand. But at least the last part of that equation may be changing. The 1950-D tends to be the leader of Jefferson nickels. If the 1950-D is moving, the others are likely to move in price as well. Recently, the 1950-D, after decades of doing nothing, jumped to $30 in MS-65. It would not be at all surprising, especially at today’s price, to see the 1938-D and other low mintage and inexpensive dates make a move as well.
Something else to be considered is whether any dealer with an uncirculated roll of a date like the 1938-D is seriously going to break up that roll to sell MS-60 coins for $10, or even to sell MS-65 coins for $20. It seems unlikely as there is very little profit. While rolls might have been available back in 1955, a roll of the 1938-D is far too hard to find today. It will take higher prices to get an owner to break up a roll and those higher prices might well be coming. While it isn’t a scarce coin, the 1938-D is still a good low mintage date worth considering, especially at the current levels.