Following the success of the Lincoln Cent and the Washington Quarter, it was decided that the nickel would be redesigned with another revered president. A content was opened to 390 artists with a prize of $1000 for the winning design. Felix Schlag captured the award his motif picturing Thomas Jefferson on the obverse and a corner view of Jefferson’s home, Monticello, on the reverse. A few minor modifications were made to his entry; the profile of Monticello was changed to a front view and the obverse portrait was tweaked slightly too.
The Jefferson Nickel series contains an interesting run of 1942-1945 Wartime issues. These can be distinguished by a large mintmark above Monticello, including “P” for Philadelphia (representing the first time the nation’s “mother” mint displayed its mark on a coin). Before then, all coins made in Philadelphia lacked a mintmark. Although it’s largely imperceptible to the naked eye, these Wartime nickels are actually 40% silver. Amazingly, nickel was a more precious commodity than silver during World War II.
Another minor adjustment to the design took place in 1966, when the initials of the designer, FS, were added to the obverse edge. Since then the Jefferson Nickel design has remained completely unchanged with no further modifications or adjustments to the design or composition. It is currently the longest-running United States coin to go untouched.
The Jefferson Nickel is an exceptionally popular series for collectors because there are no really scarce date and mintmark combinations. Some reasonably scarce overdates, overmintmarks, and doubled dies exist, but these are largely specialized varieties beyond the scope of the average collector. The 1950-D is an interesting date, as its low mintage of 2.6 million pieces was recognized as being exceptionally low early on. It became a target of speculators in the late 50s and early 60s who drove its price up to an astounding $25 per coin by the mid-1960s. Today they are worth more like $15-$20.
Due to the fact that they are struck in a hard metal—and were traditionally stored in rolls—Jefferson nickels are easy to find in higher grades. Locating coins grading MS 66 and MS 67 is quite easy for most (if not all) issues. However, certain business strikes which display a full set of steps on Monticello are actually quite scarce and command significant premiums. Due to this market premium, PCGS and NGC designate these fully struck coins as “FS.”