One of the least-known better dates from the 1950s is the 1951-D Jefferson nickel. Today the 1951-D commands a premium price, but it still is basically unknown since all the attention has been paid to the 1950-D.
The 1951-D’s mintage of 20,460,000 seems low today, but at the time of its release it was overshadowed by the 1950-D, which had a mintage of just 2,630,030.
Of course the most important consideration is how many examples of the 1951-D were saved. This is where the 1951-D becomes tougher than even some low-mintage dates.
In 1951 collectors and dealers were almost solely focused on finding and hoarding as many 1950-D nickels as possible. Some did pretty well at it. A man in Houston, Texas, reportedly managed to obtain nearly 1 million examples. A dealer in Milwaukee, Wis., was reported to have had 8,000 rolls, amounting to 320,000 coins. If anyone had saved even 320,000 of the 1951-D, we would not be in the position we are in today.
There should have been some saving of the 1951-D. After all, the 1950-D played a major roll in starting the so-called roll craze that caused otherwise sane people to stuff closets, car trunks and any other available space with rolls and bags of current coins. People acted as if storing coins long enough would somehow turn them to gold. Those who had rolls and bags of silver coins, stored them until 1980, and then sold them did awfully well. Those who hoarded cents and nickels, however, didn’t do quite as well.
The roll craze took time to get going, and the 1951-D came along just a little too early to have been included in great numbers.
Under the circumstances, there is reason to suspect that the 1951-D is not available in Mint State. We can see how it was overlooked as an uncirculated roll back in 1998, when it listed for just $22.50. Today it is up to $188. That is an awfully good increase.
In 1998 the 1951-D was $1.50 in MS-65. This price suggests a lack of interest and demand in better grades. It was basically priced as a coin from the 1950s, when there were only uncirculated coins and circulated coins, no MS-60 or MS-65.
Today’s prices suggest change. In MS-65, it is at $22. While the 1951-D is not going to get many headlines with such prices, the supply is certainly suspect, especially in MS-65.
The 1951-D is clearly a better date. The grading services will not show this because many dates of the period are not expensive enough to justify sending them in for grading. If and when that changes, there will be more evidence to support the higher prices. Until then, the fact that people are paying more for the 1951-D stands as the best proof we have.