Even though the U.S. Mint has exacting standards and impeccable tolerances maintained on its minted coinage, some rare and very valuable error coins have been produced during the Jefferson nickel’s long production run. Looking through pocket change or bank rolls could bring a rare coin to a lucky collector, if they know what to look for. Use this guide to find the years with known errors, and the specific pattern of each.
The most common mint production error is the ‘doubled die’ error. This was a defect caused by an incorrect transfer of the striking image from master dies to production dies. When those dies where then used to strike the coins the multiple, identical images on the die imparts a visible ghosting or doubling of the image on the coin. This happens with one strike of the coin per side. The effect is similar to the much less valuable double-struck coin, where a normal die make two strikes on the same side, and the movement of the coin between strikes causes doubling as well. Because this type of error is due to an individual process error, not a lot of coins like doubled die coins, it is not considered a collectible, and hence not nearly as valuable.
Some key dates of Jefferson nickels display this unique pattern. Older entires are the 1939 doubled die reverse nickel, where the entire Monticello building can be seen doubled, and the 1943-P doubled die obverse, where the front of Jefferson’s profile and the word Liberty can be seen doubled. On the 1945-P doubled die reverse coin the lettering of ‘Monticello’ and the motto along the rim are sometimes doubled, and in more modern issues the 1990-S doubled die obverse in which the ‘In God We Trust’ script is clearly doubled. The 2004 Peace nickel has doubling seen in the date, motto and the initials of the designer on the obverse of the coin. One year later, in 2005, the buffalo nickel had some specimens show doubling of the script Liberty, on the reverse of the coin.
All of these coins carry a premium over other coins of the same year. Most often collectors will submit these coins for grading, so that the variety is documented, along with the coins condition and luster. A little time spent looking at the change in your pocket, or the two dollars spent on a roll of nickels at the bank, may ultimately yield a rarity of U.S. coinage, and a prize for any collector.