With all the new interest in nickels thanks in large part to the special designs of 2004 and 2005, it would seem like the right time to take another and more serious look at Jefferson nickels. If we do, what we may find about the 1942-D could be very surprising.
Historically speaking, there has been very little time spent in the serious study of Jefferson nickels. The 1950-D was the most sensational, the 1939-D was the key in Mint State, with the 1939-S being better in Mint State – and that was about all you needed to know when it came to Jefferson nickels.
In fairness, there are other interesting Jefferson nickels like the 1938-D and 1938-S, which were low-mintage but also very heavily saved as the first year of issue. There were also the special war-time coins from 1942-1945 with their 56 percent copper, 35 percent silver and 9 percent manganese compositions.
It has never been a case where there were no interesting Jefferson nickels. It has just been a case where the interesting Jefferson nickels there were did not cost very much money or seem very elusive to many. It’s a classic case where it is very easy to have a date or even a few dates basically slip under the collectors’ and dealers’ radars. When it comes to most Jefferson nickels, the radars are not pointed in the right direction.
The 1942-D is a typical example of a Jefferson nickel that might have slipped under many radar screens over the years. After all, it was a 1942-D produced just prior to the release of the special war-time composition Jefferson nickels that were released in October of that year. In all probability, had you been collecting nickels in 1942, it would have been those new-composition coins with the large mintmark over Monticello that would have been exciting, not the 1942-D.
The mintage of the 1942-D was 13,938,000, and that should have at least raised an eyebrow or two but probably not as many as we might think. After all, the Jefferson nickel had been around only since 1938, and there had already been four others with a lower mintage. Being the fifth-lowest mintage Jefferson nickel in five years was really not very encouraging to collectors and dealers to save extra examples. Moreover, over the years, there would be any number of lower-mintage dates. In fact, there are enough that the 1942-D does not even make the list of the 10 lowest-mintage Jefferson nickels.
What we did learn over time was that, while not especially tough in circulated grades, the 1942-D was actually somewhat more difficult than might be expected in Mint State. It was actually tough in Mint State.
Since the late ’90s, we have seen some movement in Jefferson nickel prices with the 1942-D now priced at $28 in MS-60 while an MS-65 is at $65. In fact, that does not put the 1942-D much closer to the 1939-D, but it continues to keep it solidly in second place when it comes to Jefferson nickel prices, safely ahead of the third-place 1939-S.
The grading service totals are interesting as the 1942-D has appeared in MS-65 or better 340 times at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation as compared to 535 times for the 1939-D, and 291 for the 1939-S. At Professional Coin Grading Service, in MS-65 or better, the 1942-D has appeared 204 times compared to about 750 for the 1939-D and 450 for the 1939-S. The problem with the totals is that the 1942-D is lower than it should be since, for many years, it made no economic sense to try to have one graded, no matter how nice. That may change over time, and then we may be able to get a better feeling for just how rare the 1942-D is in top grades when compared to the traditional Jefferson nickel key dates.
For now, the best that can be said is that the 1942-D is one of the top Jefferson nickels in high grade and that, with time, it may look even better than it looks today.
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