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War obligations slowed collecting

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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If you happen to believe there’s some truth in the classic saying, “Don’t look back because something might be gaining on you,” when it comes to Jefferson nickels, that something doing the gaining might well be the 1942-D.

The story of the 1942-D is really an interesting one involving a lot of factors that accurately reflect the time. After all, the 1942-D was issued at one of the really unique times in American history as the United States on Dec. 7, 1941, had been thrust into the global conflict of World War II.

Faced with the prospect of fighting a war literally all over the globe, American planners had a very full plate of considerations. One of those was what supplies in terms of metals were needed to fight that war for a number of years. Two metals that would be required were copper and nickel. Both were used in large amounts in the production of coins. It was decided to seek an alternative alloy for the cent and nickel.

In the case of the nickel, things moved rapidly. A combination of 56 percent copper (which was a reduction from 75 percent), 35 percent silver and 9 percent manganese was selected for new nickels. Although it meant the coin contained no nickel, the new nickels were rushed into production.

While the new nickels were being prepared, the mints could not sit idly by waiting for a final approval of the new alloy and that saw Philadelphia and Denver begin normal 1942 nickel production. Philadelphia would produce almost 50 million nickels of the traditional alloy, but at Denver the total would be just 13,938,000.

The relatively low mintage of the 1942-D was not likely to attract that much attention at the time. In fact, many coins would not attract much attention as many of the nation’s collectors and dealers were preparing to head off to war and that meant that at least for a while collections had to be put away for a more important calling.

In addition, the mintage while low was not that low. The 1938 and 1939 Jefferson nickels from Denver and San Francisco all had lower mintages, so this was not a case where speculators were going to run out and buy rolls and bags of the 1942-D.

Another factor is that in October of 1942 the Jefferson nickels with the special alloy – which would be used through 1945 – were released. With their large mintmarks over Monticello on the reverse, they were easy to identify. Because they were new, the best guess is that they were the Jefferson nickels of 1942 that received much of the attention at the time.

If you put all those factors together, you have a pretty good recipe for a coin being overlooked. It would stay that way for years in terms of price. The 1942-D was simply another slightly better Jefferson nickel.

In recent times, however, the 1942-D has been making a quiet move to ever higher prices. The current $32 MS-60 price strongly suggests that the 1942-D was not saved in any significant numbers, and the $60 MS-65 price puts the 1942-D  in the position of being the second most expensive regular date Jefferson nickel behind only the 1939-D and well ahead of a number of lower mintage dates.

It appears that at long last it has been discovered that supplies of the 1942-D are not large. Increased interest in Jefferson nickels means higher prices, and that is what we are seeing for the 1942-D.

2011 U.S. Coin Digest: Nickels
The latest details and values for circulating and non-circulating nickels.

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