Most nickels produced by the US are made of an alloy of 25% nickel and 75% copper. During World War II, nickel was deemed necessary for the war effort. Nickel was needed for use in armor plating, and Congress ordered the nickel removed from the five-cent piece, effective October 8, 1942. Consequently, silver content nickels were produced from mid-1942 to 1945. The composition was changed to an alloy composed of 56% copper, 35 % silver and 9% manganese.
For the first time a Nickel would have no nickel in its composition. During this interesting period of time, silver became temporarily “less precious” than nickel, and the composition of the Jefferson nickel was altered.
In addition to the compositional change, the mint marks on these wartime nickels were changed as well. Silver content nickels were produced by the Philadelphia, Denver, and SanFrancisco mints. For each of these mints, a prominent P, D, or S appears on the reverse above the Monticello dome. Interestingly, this is the first time in American coinage that the “P” mint mark was used for the Philadelphia mint. I remember as a kid looking for these coins in loose change and occasionally finding a nickel with a big mintmark “above the dome”. Compared to other nickels, these circulated war nickels looked unusually gray due to tarnish of the wartime alloy. What a find!
Let’s look at War Nickel Mintages:
1942-P 57,900,000 1943-P 271,165,000 1944-P 119,150,000 1945-P 119,408,100
1942-D 0 1943-D 15,294,000 1944-D 32,309,000 1945-D 37,158,000
1942-S 32,900,000 1943-S 104,060,000 1944-S 21,640,000 1945-S 58,939,000
As can be seen, the scarcest are the 1943-D and the 1944-S, although these numbers hardly qualify as rare.
Error Varieties: Potentially Great Investments
There are a few error rarities in this series. Look for the rare 1943/2 overdate and the “Doubled Eye” varieties in the 1943-P coin. Also, keep an eye out for the Doubled Die Reverse in the 1945-P nickel. These error rarities could command high prices but may be hard to find.
Many investors look for war nickels as a way to invest in silver at an affordable price. Collectors enjoy them for their silver content as well as the history behind their creation. Collecting a complete set of silver content nickels is not difficult and should not be too costly for most collectors. One could even collect a compete uncirculated set. Uncirculated war nickels tarnish easily, therefore a complete set of uncirculated coins preserves their beauty the best. In addition, 27,600 proofs were struck for the 1942-P nickel, making this an excellent investment.
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