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From the August 2003 issue of ACCent, the newsletter of the Anchorage Coin Club:


The 1950-D Nickel: Worth A Second Look

By Mike Nourse  


     If you have done much numismatic reading over the years, you are undoubtedly familiar with the story of the 1950-D Jefferson nickel fiasco. When the mintage figure for the year 1950 at the Denver Mint was made public, collectors and speculators grabbed up every one of these nickels they could find.

     The price climbed and climbed and climbed for over a decade, eventually reaching around $25 per coin in 1964, which translates to about $100 or so in today's dollars. Wow! However, it has pretty much been downhill ever since then, and you can get a decent Uncirculated specimen for under $10 today. I have not confirmed it myself, but rumor has it that the 1950-D nickel is the only coin listed in the 1964 edition of the Redbook that actually has a lower price listed in the current edition.

     It sure sounds like it would be hard to find a worse place to put some money today than into a coin with a 40 year track record as a loser. But maybe we should take a closer look at the 1950-D nickel before we start laying them out on the railroad tracks to be flattened out like scrap metal.

     The low mintage figure that started all the ruckus in the 1950's and early 1960's was 2,630,030 pieces. That is a low mintage, and it is the lowest mintage among Jefferson nickels produced for circulation, but one can certainly find lower mintage figures among the older Buffalo, Liberty head, and Shield nickel series.

     The 1950-D nickels were heavily saved near their time of issue, so it is a safe bet that 2 1/2 million of them are still in existence, an adequate supply of that date to guarantee that they will never be rare. But price depends on demand as well as supply, and this is a case where demand could possibly outstrip the supply, even as large as that supply is. Jefferson nickels are not at the top of the popularity list right now, and they really have not been there for quite a long time, possibly all the way back to the 1960's.

     It must now be noted that there will be some new designs found on the nickel sometime in the coming months, and that invariably gets attention from the general public. We received confirmation of that when the state quarters were first issued and many non-collectors took notice. Some of those people started collecting Washington quarters and hopefully will eventually become dedicated coin collectors. Now, when James T. Public sees a new design on the nickel, he is not likely to suddenly start slamming together a set of Extra Fine shield nickels; he is first going to look into building a complete set of Jefferson nickels, minted from 1938 to present.

     Now, look at that that mintage figure of 2.6 million again. You may notice that number is roughly one percent of the population of the United States today. In other words, there are only enough 1950-D nickels to go around for one person in 100 to have one, and that makes the absurd assumptions that there are no foreign collectors and that all collectors are content with a single specimen of this nickel (i.e. no roll collectors). When you put it that way, it really drives home just how low the mintage of nickels in Denver that year really was. It shows that Jefferson nickel collecting only has to catch on in a small way among the general public for the available supply to dry up.

     The moral of this whole story is that there are plenty of 50-D nickels to supply the current number of people building Jefferson nickel sets along with those who are hoarding them or just have a roll or two stashed away. If even a tiny portion of the non-collecting public looks into building one of these sets, that situation will change dramatically, dealer's inventories will be quickly depleted, and prices will rise. It remains to be seen how much excitement the new nickels generate, but the new nickels coming along five years after the beginning of the state quarters program certainly should prove beneficial to our hobby!


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