What year nickels have the most silver?

The composition of United States nickels has changed quite a bit over the years. Specifically, the amount of silver used in nickels has varied widely depending on the year they were minted. Nickels minted in the mid-20th century contain the most silver, with some years containing as much as 35% silver content.

A Brief History of the US Nickel

The first US nickel was introduced in 1866, and was referred to as the “Shield nickel” due to the design on its face. The original Shield nickel was made of 75% copper and 25% nickel, with no silver content.

This composition remained the same until 1883, when the design was changed to feature Liberty on the front, leading to the nickname “Liberty Head nickel.” The new Liberty Head nickels also had the same 75% copper/25% nickel composition.

In 1913, the composition of the US nickel changed again with the introduction of the Buffalo or Indian Head nickel. This coin, which featured an American bison on one side and a Native American portrait on the other, was made up of 75% copper and 25% nickel, maintaining the tradition of no silver content.

It wasn’t until the release of the Jefferson nickel in 1938 that silver became part of the composition. That year, in an effort to make the nickel larger and more easily distinguished from the penny, the US Mint updated the nickel to be made of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese.

This “silver nickel” composition was used for all Jefferson nickels produced from 1938 until mid-1942. Then, with silver prices rising during World War II, the composition was changed in 1942 to 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese. These were known as “war nickels.”

After the war, silver was eliminated from the nickel composition entirely. Since 1946, all Jefferson nickels have been made of 75% copper and 25% nickel.

So in summary, the only US nickels that contained silver were:

– Jefferson nickels 1938-1942 (35% silver)
– Wartime “silver nickels” 1942-1945 (35% silver)

This makes the years 1938-1945 the period when US nickels contained the highest silver content.

Details on the Silver Jefferson Nickels (1938-1942)

As mentioned above, when Jefferson nickels were first introduced in 1938, they had a composition of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese. This was done to make the nickel larger so it was easily distinguishable from the penny.

At the time, the price of silver was low – around $0.45 per ounce. With silver prices low, the US Mint could produce nickels containing more than a third silver without the coins being worth more melted down than their face value.

Here are some more key details about the silver Jefferson nickels minted from 1938 to 1942:

– They contained a significant amount of silver – 35% by weight, or 0.056 troy ounces of pure silver per nickel.

– The mint marks indicating the location where the nickels were produced were located on the reverse side, above Monticello. Mint marks included P, D, and S for Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints.

– No mint marks indicate the nickels were minted in Philadelphia, but they carried no identifying letter.

– In 1938 and 1939, the “In God We Trust” motto did not appear on the nickels. It was added in 1938.

– In 1942, production of silver nickels ceased halfway through the year when silver was removed from the composition. So 1942 nickels can be found with and without the 35% silver composition.

– Total number of silver Jefferson nickels minted from 1938-1942 is estimated at 1.1 billion coins.

Details on the Wartime Silver Nickels (1942-1945)

Once the United States entered World War II in late 1941, silver prices began to rise as production increased for wartime needs. To conserve silver for other purposes, the US Mint changed the composition of the nickel in 1942 from 35% silver to just 9% manganese and 56% copper.

However, later in 1942, the Mint decided to resume production of nickels with the original “silver” composition – 35% silver, 56% copper, and 9% manganese. This was done because the non-silver composition was causing problems:

– The color was much darker and reminiscent of the penny.
– There were complaints that the nickels without silver were easily mistaken for pennies when making change.
– People started hoarding the older silver nickels.

So in late 1942, the US Mint began producing what became known as “war nickels” – these had a large mint mark (P, D, or S) placed above the dome of Monticello on the reverse. This distinguished them from earlier silver nickels.

Here are additional details on the wartime silver nickels:

– They were produced through 1945, when silver nickels resumed the normal nickel alloy without silver.

– The composition remained 35% silver, 56% copper, and 9% manganese throughout the wartime period.

– Total number of wartime silver nickels minted was approx. 869 million.

– Having the mint mark above Monticello distinguishes them from earlier silver Jefferson nickels.

– Many people hoarded the wartimes nickels for their silver content. Even circulated specimens are worth more than face value today due to silver value.

So in the wartime years of 1942-1945, the US continued minting nickels with the same 35% silver composition, even though silver was in high demand for the war effort. These coins help make the WWII era the time when US nickels had the highest silver content.

Which Years and Types of Nickels Had 35% Silver?

To summarize the key details covered already, here is an overview of the specific years and types of US nickels that contained 35% silver in their composition:

Year Nickel Type
1938-1942 Jefferson nickel
1942-1945 Wartime silver nickel (with mint mark above Monticello)

No other US nickels contained the 35% silver alloy. The initial Jefferson nickels (1938-1942) marked the first and only time silver was used in the nickel until the temporary change for wartime nickels.

So any nickel dated between 1938 and 1945 that has the normal design of Jefferson on the front and Monticello on the back contains 35% silver content, with the wartime 1942-1945 nickels distinguished by the prominent mint mark.

Evaluating common dates versus more scarce dates and mint marks can show which of these silver wartime nickels are worth the most to collectors today. But overall, the WWII period gave us the US nickels containing the highest silver content.

Silver Nickel Values and Collectibility

For coin collectors and silver stackers, the various 35% silver nickels minted from 1938-1945 carry premium value due to the precious metals content. Here is an overview of what these nickels are worth:

– **Silver value:** Based on silver melt value alone, each standard silver nickel (with 0.056 troy oz silver content) is worth around $1.40 in silver value at current market prices. This base price for silver content sets the minimum value.

– **Numismatic value:** For nickels in lightly circulated condition, collectors may pay a small premium over the silver value, especially for scarce dates, mint marks, and exceptional eye appeal. Heavily circulated pieces carry little or no premium over bare silver value.

– **Uncirculated value:** Nickels that were never put into circulation carry much higher market values, due to demand from collectors. Uncirculated 1938-1942 Jefferson silver nickels can sell for $4-$10 each even in lower grades. Rare dates in top grades can reach $50-$100+ in uncirculated condition.

So while all silver nickels have intrinsic value based on silver content, condition is a major factor in determining collector and numismatic value above the bare minimum silver melt value. Key coins in top condition carry significant premiums.

Identifying Silver Nickels (What to Look For)

Since the silver nickels look very similar to regular nickels, here are some tips for identifying the 35% silver coins:

– **Date range:** Look for dates between 1938 and 1945. Also check 1942 coins to determine if they were minted before or after the wartime silver composition change took effect that year.

– **Design details:** Jefferson nickel fronts stayed the same, so look on the reverse. Wartime silver nickels (1942-1945) will have a large P, D, or S mint mark above the dome of Monticello. Regular silver nickels (1938-1942) have a smaller mint mark below the building if present.

– **Edge**: Silver nickels have smooth edges. Nickels made after 1945 may show evidence of reeding or serrated edges when closely inspected.

– **Weight:** Silver nickels weigh 5 grams exactly, heavier than the non-silver 3.75 grams for modern cupronickel coins. Can weigh on a sensitive scale.

– **Magnet test:** A magnet will be attracted to the non-silver section of a silver nickel, but silver is non-magnetic. Magnet should slide off the coin if guided across the surface.

– **Sound test:** When dropped on a hard surface, silver nickels will emit a higher pitched “ring” compared to clunkier non-silver nickels.

Using a combination of date, design, weight, magnetism, and sound can reliably identify the valuable 35% silver nickels.

Finding Silver Nickels in Circulation

Since most silver nickels were heavily saved and hoarded due to their precious metal content, very few remain in circulation today compared to other older coins. However, finding a silver nickel in your pocket change is still possible.

Here are some tips for locating silver nickels in circulation:

– Always check the dates on any nickels you receive in change. Carefully inspect nickels dated between 1938 and 1945 for the chance of a silver coin.

– Look for 1935 and 1945 dated nickels, as they may have entered circulation again after being released from hoards and accumulations.

– Search coin rolls obtained from your bank. Silver nickels may still turn up rarely in these. Ask for rolls of older nickels.

– Check under couch cushions, in car ashtrays, old purses, buried in storage rooms, and similar places where coins accumulate and get lost.

– Search through estate sales, yard sales, flea markets, and metal detecting finds, where neglected old coins often turn up.

While bank rolled nickels and coin searches offer the best odds of finding silver nickels, be sure to also glance at all your change for the off chance a silver 5-cent piece from the 1940s finds its way into your hands. Persistence and regularly checking dates pays off for those looking to locate these old silver coins.


In the history of US nickels, the years between 1938 and 1945 mark the period when this denomination contained the most silver. With silver composing 35% of the weight of nickels produced from 1938-1942 and again in the wartime years 1942-1945, these coins offer collectors and investors an interesting way to add silver to their holdings at a low premium over silver melt value.

While most silver nickels have been removed from circulation over the years by collectors and hoarders, it is still possible to locate these valuable coins by searching coin rolls, examining pocket change closely, and looking through groups of old coins acquired from various sources. Any US nickel dated between 1938 and 1945 with the standard designs for the era has a minimum silver melt value significantly higher than face value. With collector premiums based on scarcity and condition, the upside can be even greater.

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