The most valuable nickels are worth millions. But you don’t need to find a super-rare Liberty head or Buffalo nickel to strike gold. Even Jefferson nickels are worth a fortune if you find the right one.
There’s one nickel that is far and away the most valuable of all time. The 1913 Liberty Head V nickel. Why did this coin sell for over four million dollars?
It’s just one of five nickels minted in 1913. Enough said. The other four coins are also extremely valuable, but this coin is far and away the finest of the five.
So, what do these five 1913 nickels look like? Here are each of the five most rare and valuable nickels of all time.
Top 13 Most Valuable Nickels
Let’s get right to it, here’s the list of the top 13 most valuable nickels of all time.
Scroll to the bottom of the post for a close-up view of each amazing nickel.
Most Valuable Jefferson Nickels
The Jefferson Nickel is the longest-running nickel series, having remained in production from 1938 to 2004.
Designed by Felix Schlag, the coin depicts a side-profile portrait of President Thomas Jefferson, with the reverse design showing his Monticello home.
For example, Jefferson nickels manufactured between 1942 and 1945 were made of 35% silver — these were also nicknamed “war nickels,” “wartime nickels’,” or “silver nickels.”
Another variation of the Jefferson nickel is the “Horizontal Error” nickel. Until the late 1980s, mint employees hand-punched the mint mark on coins when working die.
This manual action often resulted in the mint mark being struck the wrong way.
The awkwardly named “1942-D over Horizontal D” Jefferson nickel variation is a doubled-die nickel resulting from an employee of the mint punching the nickel’s mint mark in the incorrect position.
These rare nickels are valuable and, therefore, popular among coin enthusiasts.
How to Identify a Rare Jefferson War Nickel
Most rare Jefferson nickels, the war nickels, have been removed from circulation. Still, they’re easy to identify. War nickels:
- Were produced during World War II between 1942 and 1945.
- Feature a letter “P,” “D,” or “S” over the dome of Monticello on the reverse side.
- Have a “D” punched on the side of Monticello rather than Jefferson’s portrait for the 1942-D over Horizontal D Jefferson nickel.
Most Valuable Buffalo Nickels
The buffalo nickel is extremely popular and sometimes called the “Indian Head nickel.” The Buffalo nickel series was in production from 1913 to 1938.
One side features a side-profile image of a Native American man, while the other depicts a buffalo.
There are wide varieties of Buffalo nickels. The original version of the five-cent coin showed the buffalo standing on a hill, while the Type II variation featured the buffalo standing on flat ground, with the words “Five Cents” enlarged compared to Type I.
In 1916, the term “Liberty” was altered slightly to give it more emphasis.
During the recession of the 1930s, there was a slowdown in the production of the Buffalo nickel.
The San Francisco mint produced less than one million nickels.
It’s considered low mintage, so this version of the nickel is known as the “1926-S,” with “1926” referring to the year of production and “S” denoting which mint produced the coin (San Francisco Mint).
A key date of the Buffalo nickel is the 1937-D nickel struck at the Denver mint. This version is known as the “three-legged nickel” because the buffalo depicted only has three legs.
A PCGS-graded MS68 D Buffalo nickel from 1937 sold in 2015 for a record $35,000.
How to Identify a Buffalo Nickel
You can identify a genuine Buffalo nickel by checking to see if:
- It was minted between 1913 and 1938.
- There’s a Native American man on one side.
- There’s a buffalo on the reverse side.
Buffalo nickels can be great additions to any coin collection. The value depends on the variety of the design, the year of production, and the general condition of the coin.
You can find a slightly worn buffalo nickel for only a few dollars. And on the high side, rare buffalo nickels in extremely fine condition are valued up to $150,000.
Most Valuable Shield Nickels
Millions of nickels were issued within a short time, primarily due to their convenience and popularity.
The first nickel created was the Shield nickel, decorated with a shield, stars, and rays and emblazoned with the slogan “The United States of America, In God We Trust.”
Some of the most valuable nickels ever minted are Shield Nickels.
The Shield nickel remained in production from 1866 to 1883.
It was replaced by another iconic design: the Liberty Head. Several new designs emerged in the following decades, including the famous Buffalo nickel and the Jefferson nickel.
The nickel was last altered in 2006 when the “Return to Monticello” theme was officially adopted.
Rare Error Nickels Worth Money
Error nickels can be worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars. But first, you’ll want to know what to look for.
1939 Doubled Monticello Nickel
The obverse side of the 1939 nickel shows a portrait of Thomas Jefferson. On the reverse side, his home in Charlottesville, Virginia, called Monticello.
The 1939 Doubled Monticello error coin has strong double printing on the word “Monticello” and “Five Cents.” Coin values range from $40 to $600, depending on the condition.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘doubled die reverse Jefferson,’ you must look closely to see the double printing.
Once you know what double printing looks like on a mint error coin, it will be easy to catch in the future.
Liberty Head Nickels
The Liberty Head series was produced between 1883 and 1913. This nickel is sometimes referred to as the “‘V’ nickel” because it’s stamped with the large Roman numeral for “5,” which resembles the letter “V.”
When this nickel was in production, the national U.S. Mint (the manufacturer of legal coinage approved by the government) added the word “cents” to the nickel due to thieves gold-plating the coin to pass it off as a five-dollar piece.
The addition or omission of “cents” led to two varieties of Liberty Head nickels while it was in circulation.
The nickel value of an 1889 Liberty Head nickel in good condition might be around $10, while an 1885 Liberty Head nickel value in uncirculated condition could be nearly $1,500.
In 1913, an employee at the Mint produced five unofficial V nickels.
Experts speculate that they did this because they were still determining whether the dies for the Buffalo nickel (which succeeded the Liberty Head nickel) would be ready for production.
If you hope to find one of these 1913 Liberty Head nickels, I have some bad news for you — these ultra-rare coins are worth money in the multi-millions.
And all five coins have been identified and are in very safe keeping – one is resting at The Smithsonian.
How to Identify a Liberty Head Nickel
You’ll know you’ve found a Liberty Head nickel if:
- The year on the nickel is between 1883 and 1912 (or 1913 for the ultra-rare version)
- There’s a “liberty head” on the front or a side-profile image of a woman wearing a crown bearing the word “liberty.”
- The back of the coin has a wreathed Roman numeral for “5,” which looks like a capital “V.”
If you see one of these nickels, Numismatics would recommend holding onto it, as it has the potential to have great value.
A Brief History of Valuable Nickels
Nickels are coins worth five cents but were not minted until 1866.
Before that, America used silver coins called half-dimes, which also had a value of five cents.
Nickels were introduced during a time of economic crisis. The United States was rebuilding from the Civil War, which had only ended the year before in 1865.
During the war, precious metals like silver and gold were hoarded out of widespread economic panic.
It took months for precious metals to become accessible for coin production after the war.
Two materials readily available due to America’s expanded industrial capabilities were nickel and copper.
Because of this, President Andrew Johnson authorized the mass production of a new coin: the nickel, which was to be made from a mixture of both metals.
The United States Mint issued millions of nickels within a short time, mainly due to their convenience and popularity.
How Much Are Your Nickels Worth?
Have you ever considered how much an old nickel might be worth beyond its face value?
Those seemingly useless coins sitting in a jar on your kitchen counter might be worth a lot more than you think.
Nickels are a hot commodity among collectors of U.S. coinage.
The history of the nickel is lengthy, with many designs and sub-designs produced throughout the decades.
What Determines the Value of a Nickel?
According to the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), the main factors influencing the value of a nickel are the condition of the coin and its mint marks and comparative rarity.
There’s a rigid grading system for determining the valuable condition of nickels:
- Poor — These coins are barely recognizable, with critical parts of the design or the date of mintage missing.
- Fair — The mintage date is identifiable, but the lettering or images are worn away.
- About Good — The coin’s design is visible in outline, but the rims have worn away, and part of the lettering is obliterated (also known as “Almost Good”)
- Good — The general design of the coin is still visible, but some parts are faded or illegible.
- Fine — All seven letters of “liberty” are visible, with only minor wear and tear.
- Very Fine — All the general details of the coin are visible, and it displays minimal wear and tear.
- Extremely Fine — The most valuable coins are always in great condition. Extremely Fine condition means some light wear might be apparent, but the overall mint luster is intact.
- Uncirculated — There are only traces of friction, but the coin is otherwise in perfect condition.
The standards for these conditions vary among the types of coins and their production years.
Proof coins and uncirculated coins are a little different in value, where they are not subject to the wear and tear of circulated coins.
Valuable Nickel Mint Marks
Some of the mint marks you’ll find on U.S. coins include:
- “C” for “Charlotte” — Gold-only coins produced between 1838 and 1861
- “CC” for “Carson City” — Produced between 1870 and 1893
- “D” for “Dahlonega, Georgia” — Gold-only coins produced between 1838 and 1861
- “D” for “Denver” — Stamped onto coins minted between 1906 and the present
- “O” for “New Orleans” — Produced between 1838 and 1909
- “P” for “Philadelphia” — The country’s first mint, which is still cranking out coins today
- “S” for “San Francisco” — Produced from 1954 to the present — this mint only produces collector coins now.
- “W” for “West Point” — Produced from 1983 to the present; like the San Francisco Mint, this mint also only makes collector coins.
The mint marks that coincide with notable dates play a part in determining nickels’ worth.
Common error nickels include mint mark errors. Many error nickels can be graded by NGC as collectible specimens.
Keep Your Eyes Open for Rare Valuable Nickels
Some of those coins accumulated in your car’s cup holder may be worth more than you think.
You don’t need to find expensive silver dollars or rare half-dollars to begin your collection; it can start with a nickel.
With some knowledge of American currency’s history, you might discover a bona fide treasure amongst your pocket change.
Top 10 Most Valuable Nickels
#10 – 1920-D Buffalo Nickel – $138,000
In a 2008 Bowers & Merena auction, a 1920-D Buffalo Five Cent piece in MS66 condition sold for $138,000.
The value is in the rarity, combined with the MS66 grade. It’s equal in its rarity to the 1927-D nickel, which are both difficult to find with luster and sharp edges.
#9 – 1917-S Buffalo Nickel – $138,000
The San Francisco Buffalo is rarer than the Denver Mint coin of this year. For some reason, mint grades are much more difficult to find from the San Francisco Mint in this period.
Nearly 4.2 million nickels were struck in 1917, but high grades featuring frosty luster is tough to find.
#8 – 1913-D Buffalo Nickel Type 2 – $143,750
1913 was a rare year for the nickel. With over 4 million produced, it would seem there was plenty of supply, but expert numismatists argue that only about 10,000 nickels were preserved in all grades combined.
Very few Tyle 2 nickels with mintmarks were saved by collectors, compared with Type 1 strikes, making it extremely difficult to find high-graded nickels in this year.
#7 – 1867 Shield Nickel with Rays – $203,000
6 – 1880 Shield Nickel – $209,000
5 – 1916 Buffalo Nickel Doubled Die – $433,000
4 – 1926-S Buffalo Nickel – $435,000
3 – 1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel Doubled Die – $505,000
2 – 1964 Jefferson Nickel Mirror – $1.15 million
1 – 1913 Liberty Head V Nickel – $4.6 million
A Deeper Look at Rare Nickels Worth Money –
So far, we’ve learned that –
- The most valuable nickel of all time is a nearly perfect condition 1913 Liberty Head V coin worth over four million dollars.
- Jefferson War Nickels minted from 1942 to 1945 contain 35% silver and are highly desirable.
- The most valuable Buffalo Nickel is the 1917-S worth $138,000.
But there’s much more to learn about rare nickels –
- Every type of nickel since 1866, the Shield, Liberty, Indian Head, and Jefferson Nickel, all weighed 5 grams.
- Why were only five 1913 Liberty V nickels struck? Because 1913 was the beginning of the Buffalo Nickel. Official records did not record any 1913 Liberty V examples, but someone went rogue and struck 5 nickels at the Philadelphia Mint. Now, prices for each of the five coins are in the millions of dollars.
- All nickel specimens were produced with 75% copper and 25% nickel composition, except for the War Nickels struck with 35% silver.
- Key dates for the Buffalo Nickel include 1926-S, with only 970,000 coins struck, and 1931-S, with only 1.2 million coins minted.
- 1964 Special Mint Sets are ultra-rare and worth money. There could be 20 to 50 sets of the 1964 SMS in the hands of collectors, but nobody knows exactly how many, or why these SMS coins were produced.
- The most valuable nickel coins worth money are Shield and Buffalo nickels in the highest graded condition. Once you acquire one of these coin specimens in excellent condition, then research the year and mintmarks.
Continue Your Search for Rare Coins –
- I have valuable coins, where can I sell them online?
- I’m not sure if I’m ready to sell my coins, but I’d like to know how much they are worth.
- I need to learn the basics of U.S. coins, and the facts behind their production.