Written by Rafa Sánchez
Made as a replacement for the Buffalo or Indian Head Nickel, which had already been in production for 25 years, the Jefferson Nickels began to be coined in 1938. They are so named because they represent the bust of the third president of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson, on the obverse side.
- 1 How to know if you have a 1940 Nickel
- 2 Varieties of Jefferson Nickels from 1940
- 3 What are the most valuable 1940 nickels?
- 4 What are Jefferson Nickels FS?
- 5 Where can we find the difference between a 1938 and 1940 back to identify its market value?
- 6 List of most valuable 1940 Jefferson Nickels
- 6.1 #1 1940 Reverse 1938 PR – $28,750 PR68
- 6.2 #2 1940-D FS – $21,738 MS68 FS
- 6.3 #3 1940 PR – $18,400 PR68
- 6.4 #4 1940 FS – $6,463 MS68 FS
- 6.5 #5 1940-S FS – $5,170 MS67+
- 6.6 #6 1940-D – $795 MS67+
- 6.7 #7 1940-S/S – $450 MS66
- 6.8 #8 1940-S – $360 MS67
- 6.9 #9 1940-S/S FS – $353 MS65
- 6.10 #10 1940 – $259 MS67
- 7 1940 Jefferson Nickel Errors
- 8 A last thought
How to know if you have a 1940 Nickel
The design was by Felix Oscar Schlag who won the open competition to select proposals. On the front, you can see the bust of President Jefferson facing left with his hair in a period ponytail.
In the legend to his left and from bottom to top appears the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” and behind the bust from top to bottom “LIBERTY – 1940“. In later years, the initials of the designer (FS) would be added under the president’s shoulder.
On the back appears the Jefferson residence known as Monticello in the center. Above “E PLURIBUS UNUM“, and under the building, is the name “MONTICELLO“. Under the name of the building appears the value “FIVE CENTS” and finally “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA“.
Varieties of Jefferson Nickels from 1940
The Jefferson Nickels 1940 were minted in the same three mints that had been minted since their introduction in 1938:
- Philadelphia (no mint mark): 176,485,000 units
- Denver, “D” mint mark: 43,540,000 units
- San Francisco, “S” mint mark: 39,690,000 units.
The Jefferson Nickel’s 1940 production was much higher than that of 1938 and 1939, with the sum of the three mints in 1940 approaching 260 million units. In 1938, total production was over 30 million and in 1939 just over 130 million.
The Jefferson Nickel coin weighs 5 grams and has a diameter of 21.2 mm. Its composition, for most of its life, has been 75% copper and 25% nickel. However, during the years of World War II (1942-1945) its composition was changed to conserve most of the country’s copper and nickel reserves for the war industry.
Is a 1940 nickel made out of silver?
Thus, during these war years, the Jefferson Nickel introduced silver into its composition: 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese.
Where is the mint mark on a 1940 nickel?
This was not the only change during these years, the location of the mint mark (for the pieces minted in San Francisco and Denver) and its size were also modified. It went from being on the right side of the building to above it and increased its size.
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What are the most valuable 1940 nickels?
To learn more about how a Jefferson Nickel 1940 can be valued, it is essential to know which editions are the most valuable. The value is dictated by factors such as the conservation of the coin, the type of coinage involved and also if we have in our hands any variant.
For the Jefferson Nickel 1940, we know of two variants: the double minting of the San Francisco mint (which is not excessively valuable); and the variant with a back of the Jefferson Nickel 1938.
This way we can count on standard coinage:
- Regular: Made for the purpose of circulation.
- Proof: Higher quality.
- Full Steps (FS): Can be seen in Regular type specimens with high Mint State conservation and in Proof specimens. It consists of seeing the number of steps at the entrance of the Monticello building on the back.
What are Jefferson Nickels FS?
In the quality FS (Full Steps), the company of graduation PCGS does not make any more distinction in the pieces that fall under this nomenclature FS. On the contrary, NGC distinguishes between 5FS, when the copy has 5 steps in very high quality, and 6FS when the number of steps is 6.
Not all years of the Jefferson Nickels present the modality ‘Full Steps’.
Where can we find the difference between a 1938 and 1940 back to identify its market value?
We must look at the steps of the Monticello building, or rather, at the sides of the steps.
On the back of the 1938 coin, the corners of the sides of the steps are less defined and rounder. On the back of 1940, the sides of the steps are very well defined and more square.
List of most valuable 1940 Jefferson Nickels
#1 1940 Reverse 1938 PR – $28,750 PR68
This is a variety of the Jefferson Nickel 1940 consisting of the use of the stamp of the back of the year 1938.
Of the two PCGS graduates in PR68, one was finished in 2015 at $16,450. The other has appeared at auction three times: it registered higher prices in 2006, at $27,600; and in 2011 it peaked at $28,750; but in September 2020 it sold slightly lower, at $26,400.
#2 1940-D FS – $21,738 MS68 FS
MS68 is the highest grade for a Jefferson Nickel 1940 Denver FS. In 2018 one copy made $21,738, but last year (2019), another of the three copies sold for $10,575.
It can be noted that, except in the above case, the prices of the other graduations of the Jefferson Nickel 1940-D FS have remained stable during the years. Thus the MS67+ variants in recent years, 2019-2020, have again closed above $1,000.
Similar is true for the MS67 graduation.
#3 1940 PR – $18,400 PR68
The highest quality of the Jefferson Nickel 1940 Proof certified by PCGS is the PR68, which has 6 copies. One of these copies holds the record for the highest price paid, at $18,400 in 2005.
That same copy went on auction again in 2011, auctioning for $10,063 and then selling for $12,925 in 2015.
Other PR68s have ranged from $6,463 to $8,519.
A Jefferson Nickel 1940 Proof graduated from the NGC in PR70 sold in 2017 for $15,275.
#4 1940 FS – $6,463 MS68 FS
Despite what we might think, the Jefferson Nickels 1940 Full Steps are numerous, identified and graduated, but it is not for that reason they are of little value.
In 2016, one MS68, of the 5 PCGS graduates, was auctioned off at $6,463. In August of this year (2020) another MS68 finished at $4,230.
Something similar happens with the MS67+ copies. If the years 2015-2016 were being auctioned off at over $1,000 in 2019-2020 they are around $600.
The MS67 copies, which have been moving between $228 and $324 for years, have more stability in terms of value.
#5 1940-S FS – $5,170 MS67+
Prices of the 1940-S FS at the highest grade, MS67+, have followed a downward trend since 2015 when one copy peaked at $5,170.
In January 2018, the MS67+ was auctioned for $3,600 and in February for $1,920. Another MS67+ was auctioned last year for $960.
#6 1940-D – $795 MS67+
Denver is the second largest production mint of the Jefferson Nickels 1940.
An MS67+ sold on eBay in 2018 for $795. It is the highest graduation for this year and mint. In MS67 graduation prices move in the range of $37-$212 depending on the piece.
#7 1940-S/S – $450 MS66
Most Jefferson Nickels 1940-S/S PCGS graduates have MS66 ratings (13 copies). In 2017, two MS66s were auctioned at $129 and $450.
One MS66+ exists but has not been released for public sale.
#8 1940-S – $360 MS67
San Francisco is the 1940 Jefferson Nickel’s rarest mint and the most valued by collectors and investors.
However, the specimens in high quality are very numerous so their prices in high quality do not exceed $500.
The highest value for a 1940-S Nickel was for a specimen graduated in MS67 by the NGC company in 2019.
#9 1940-S/S FS – $353 MS65
PCGS has graduated a total of 22 copies in the following qualities: 2 copies MS64, 14 units MS65 and 6 copies MS66.
Only one Jefferson Nickel 1940-S/S FS in MS65 grade is known to have been sold at auction – for $353 in 2016.
#10 1940 – $259 MS67
This is a very common piece, the largest print run of the Jefferson Nickel 1940, so it is important to look for high quality if possible exceeding the Mint State.
The most valuable Jefferson Nickel 1940 was an MS67 auctioned in 2004 for $259. Since 2004 no MS67 has ever exceeded $155.
1940 Jefferson Nickel Errors
We can found in the market coinage errors in the 1940 Jefferson Nickel that hold some value beyond its conservation. The following examples make the price of the Jefferson Nickel 1940 between $70 and $600.
Some examples are:
- Front/back offset. The higher the offset, the greater the value of the copy, as long as the date data is verifiable.
- Breakage of the stamp on the front/reverse side.
- Coining on a copper Wheat Penny die.
- Edge errors: Coining without edge, with off-center edge or with double edge coining.
A last thought
As a summary, you have seen that the prices of the 1940 Jefferson Nickels have fallen in a general trend from the years prior to 2008 until today. The types that have better maintained their value have been those with high qualities, framed within the category FS and the variant of the reverse 1938’s reverse.
I have a degree in Business Administration and Management and numismatics studies at the University of Murcia (Spain).