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Item of the Week: 1950-D Jefferson Nickel

Item-ab

There has never been anything quite like the 1950-D Jefferson nickel when it comes to creating excitement. The coin was simply in a class by itself even though no one can quite explain why.

It all started innocently enough with the Mint announcing that the 1950-D had a mintage of 2,630,000. That total caused a wave of interest since it was the lowest Jefferson nickel mintage in history. For some reason, in the period around 1950 the planets were out of order or something because that fact touched off a frenzy.

While low, 2,630,030 is not all that low for a nickel. The 1931-S, 1924-S, 1926 and 1921-S Buffalo nickels were all lower – and that is just from the period after 1920. Yet somehow, that 1950-D total caused people to get wild. The hoarding began almost immediately. This was not just a roll here and a roll there; this was truckloads of 1950-D nickel hoarding.

There were reports of a hoard of 200,000 examples of the 1931-S Lincoln cent, but even that was nothing compared to the 1950-D. The size of the hoards are hard to verify, but they were substantial.

In his book, American Coin Treasures and Hoards, Q. David Bowers shares his knowledge of some of the 1950-D nickel hoards, putting that of A.J. Mitula of Houston, Texas, at over 1 million pieces. Another in Milwaukee, Wis., was put at 320,000. That is just two, but Bowers notes that there “were several players.”

The impact of the hoards was to make the 1950-D seem far tougher than its mintage suggested. With many young collectors at the time collecting from circulation, the 1950-D seemed almost impossible.

It was a glorious cycle. People would try to find the 1950-D, which was almost impossible. So they would buy one, but not many were available since they were sitting in hoards. That demand made the price go higher, which created publicity, which caused even more demand and still-higher prices.

It did not take long for the 1950-D to reach $6 for an average Mint State example. For all practical purposes, it took the government to kill the speculation. It was not deliberate. The government simply decided to eliminate mintmarks for a few years and that basically killed collecting, which in turn seemed to kill the interest in the 1950-D: it basically stopped at around $6 for an example in Mint State. There were only scattered listings in circulated grades. Because so few actually reached circulation, they were rare in circulated grades.

Sometime in the mid-1960s, the 1950-D simply stopped moving in price. It was not just a pause, it was a full-blown coma. It did not change from roughly $6 in the 1960s or the 1970s or the 1980s or the 1990s. That’s right, for basically 35 years the date that made the cover of national magazines and had launched a craze in original rolls basically it did nothing.

In 1998 the price of a 1950-D was $6.50 in MS-60 and $9 in MS-65. It had been about $6 in 1965, but that was just for an uncirculated example since MS-65 was not applied to nickels at the time.

Then a strange thing happened. The 1950-D suddenly arose from decades of doing nothing in terms of price to show why it had been the most avidly watched coin of the 1950s. It suddenly soared, going in a matter of weeks to $22 in MS-60 and $30 in MS-65. If you took a vacation from watching prices, you could have easily missed the move.

Does the more recent price increase mean the 1950-D will start a second wave of increases? Probably not since there are still far too many available. It’s more likely that the 1950-D is simply the first date indicating increased interest in Jefferson nickel collecting, perhaps resulting from the new designs in recent years. That could mean slight additional increases, but no repeat of the 1950s. ◆