For $15.00 you can acquire a 1938-D Jefferson nickel in MS65. In MS65 with full steps the 1938-D is $95.00 but in MS60 it is a mere $4.00. The reason these prices look so good is that the 1938-D only had a mintage of 5,376,000 and that is not all that much more than some proof sets today. Moreover, this was 1938 and many of these coins reached circulation making it a very good question as to how many are still Mint State. For $4.00 in MS60 and $15.00 in MS65 it looks like a good deal.
Before getting too excited and getting second mortgages or dipping into your child’s college fund, it’s worthwhile to remember that having a low mintage does not make a coin rare and valuable. That can sometimes be a difficult thing to remember. As kids growing up we used to figure that if a coin had a mintage of less than one million it had to be great. After all, the 1909-S VDB and 1931-S Lincoln cents were less than one million and the 1916-D Mercury dime was under one million as was the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter. The list was basically solid as under one million for a mintage meant a good date.
Of course, even as kids, we noticed there were some flaws in the logic. The 1926-S Buffalo nickel and 1927-D Standing Liberty quarter had mintages of less than one million but they were not really all that good. The 1914-D Lincoln cent was over the one million mark and it was better than the lower mintage 1931-S. Then there was the 1950-D Jefferson nickel and everyone wanted the 1950-D and it had a mintage of over 2.6 million. It was clear that our idea of one million being the key mintage total to determine better dates needed some work.
All of that is not to say mintage totals are not an extremely important factor in the pricing of coins. After all, if very few are made then there cannot be many available for the buyers today but that is the key element in that how many are around today in the grades desired and not the mintage is the key consideration.
It is that consideration in terms of numbers available today where the story of the 1938-D Jefferson nickel takes some perhaps unexpected turns.
It was in the late 1930s when the coin market really got a shot in the arm in the form of holders to house complete sets by date and mint. Such holders and albums were never available prior to the late 1930s and they made an enormous difference in terms of the numbers of new issues saved. You need only look at the grading service totals and you can see that suddenly in the late 1930s the number of Mint State examples of various coins doesn’t just jump, it skyrockets.
It was simply a case where coin collecting had been growing in popularity throughout the 1930s even during the Great Depression but the holders and more information were the things it really needed and when they arrived a lot of people got serious for the first time about collecting coins.
There was a heavy saving of some Buffalo nickel dates of the late 1930s. In fact, in some cases, we still find original rolls or partial rolls offered. That was saving at about the same time as the 1938-D Jefferson nickel was released.
The introduction of a new design in the form of the Jefferson nickel into that atmosphere was bound to create a good deal of interest and saving and it did. It is not just the 1938-D as the even lower mintage 1938-S is also available and even the 1938 from Philadelphia which while higher mintage is still far more available that its mintage would normally suggest. It’s literally across the board all the 1938 Jefferson nickels are available.
In fact, there have been rolls of the 1938-D found on the market for years. We cannot know how many were saved but the total had to be large. It was only some years ago a major auction had a number of rolls of each 1938.
While the supplies are large, the fact remains they will eventually be exhausted. We cannot be sure but eventually, the 1938-S and 1938-D will rise in price. We just do not know when that time will come, but at $15.00 today or $4.00 in MS60, it is awfully hard to pass up the chance to acquire such a low mintage date for such a good price. Besides, if you buy a coin or a roll, you are helping to dry up the supply, which will help to raise the price of your coin.