Old Pueblo Coin – Tucson, AZ

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The “WAR” Nickel

jeffersonpicThomas Jefferson has been on the nickel since 1938, replacing the Buffalo design.  We call it a nickel, although it is technically a 5 cent piece. But over the years the vernacular has taken over and it is safe to say that if you called the coin a ”5 cent piece” instead of a “nickel” you will get a few odd looks.

1938nickelThe term nickel was given to the coin based on the metal composition of the coin. This, however, may also be a misnomer…as the coin is only 25% nickel and 75% Copper.  That is the same composition since 1866, the inception of the nickel ”nickel”, the Shield nickel.

In 1942 the USA needed all the copper and nickel it could get as it ramped up for the war efforts. On October 8, 1942 the first ”war” nickels were produced. The new composition was 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese.  The new composition was used all the way through the 1945 calendar year. This means that both types of nickels were made in 1942.

warnickelAlong with the change in composition the decision was made to move the mint mark to above Monticello on the reverse of the coin. This is one easy way to distinguish the coin from its predecessor.  This was the first coin to have a ”P” mint mark on the coin. Up until that time coins from Philadelphia had no mint mark. The new coins also have a different look to them, both in circulated and uncirculated conditions. The coins are brighter in new condition and are darker in used condition than their nickel counterparts.

The new war nickels were struck at all three mints (Denver, San Francisco, Philadelphia) over the span of 4 years for a total of 11 different issues. The combined mintages for all coins approaches a billion pieces. Today the circulated pieces still trade based on their silver content of 5.6% of an ounce per coin. With the current silver spot price at $19.40 that means each coin has just over $1 in silver in it.

In uncirculated grades the coins can be purchased for $10 each, on average. Gem examples can be more costly. The war nickels make a great collection because they are inexpensive and their are only 11 to complete the set. When you don’t have to worry about your wallet it makes the thrill of the hunt all the more enjoyable.


Their are many collectible varieties for the war nickels. The most popular, as listed in the Red book, are the 1943 (P) 3 over 2 variety, the 1943 P Double Eye and the 1945 P Double Die Reverse.

This variety is hard to identify, as it has a small tail from the bottom of the 3 that heads to the middle of the three. If you look at enough worn out 1943 P nickels you’ll swear they all are this variety! If you can find this variety it is likely to fetch you $25 to $250.


1943 P Double Eye. This one is hard to see….it will come to you….just think about it…. but has a nice return as they trade at $20-$200. The fun part about this variety is you still have a chance to find it, as most dealers won’t have the time or want to go through war nickels for varieties.doubleeye

1945 Double Die Reverse. This is one of my favorites because it is a visible doubling that is not that expensive. You can see the doubling with the naked eye or a 5x loupe. The doubling is most noticeable in the “O” in Monticello and the “S” in cents.  They range in price from $10 to $100.doublemonticello

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Coins 101 Indian Head Cent 1859-1909

After the Flying Eagle cent James Longacre was called on again, and this time created the Indian Cent. It was first issued in 1859, with a laurel wreath on the reverse. This design was only for one year. Starting in 1860 the coin had a new reverse with a shield added at the top of the wreath (and a new wreath style too).

The first 5 1/2  years the coin was produced of 88% copper, 12% nickel and were thick, like the Flying Eagle Cent. Before the first nickel 5 cent piece came out in 1866 this coins were often called ”nickels” or ”nicks”. Midway through 1864 the coins were made thin, like today’s cent, and the purity was changed to 95% copper and 5% alloy.

The design and composition stayed the same from 1865-1909. There was the addition of the mint mark in 1908 as the San Francisco mint struck it’s first cents. The mint mark is at 6 O’clock on the reverse of the coin.

Indian Cents from the mid 1880s and newer are very affordable, mostly costing a dollar or two in average condition. There are several more rare dates including the 1877 and the 1909-S. These rare dates are several hundreds of dollars in low grade.

The Indian cent has it’s name from the depiction of Liberty wearing a Native American Headdress. The design has stood up to the test of time.

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Coins 101 The Flying Eagle Cent

The Flying Eagle cent was a transitional coin. It was the stepping stone from the large cent to the Indian head cent. It was only produced for circulation for two years, 1857 and 1858. It is the same diameter as our current cent, but is about twice the thickness. It was a big step down in size. The previous cent (“large cent”) was 27.5 mm in size and the Flying Eagle cent is 19mm.

James Longacre designed the coin, as well as the Indian Cent. The name of the coin comes from the design. It has an eagle in flight on the front with the legend “United States of America”. The back of the coin has a wreath and says “ONE CENT” in the middle. Well worn examples of the Flying Eagle Cent start at about $20. Middle grades range from $75 to $100. An uncirculated example exceeds the $400 price barrier.


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