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The Jefferson Nickel & WWII

The numismatic world was not immune to the embroiling conflict in Europe and South East Asia of World War II.  As the war began to assume priority over less vital industries, the U.S. Mint and Treasury Department had to cope with the new demands and sacrifices needed to win.  The Jefferson nickel was no exception, and its minting, and even composition changed to suit.  It was not all a loss however, as numismatics gained some unique and valuable coins.

When the United States entered the war due to the events at Pearl Harbor in 1941, civilian production and hence U.S. Mint production was working at maritime conditions of supply and demand.  When President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for massive war time production increases, essentially a very large demand, the available peace time supply could not cope.  So even as production and use of raw materials geared up and increased production, it could not do so in time.

The shortage of materials was tackled head on.  Non-essential components utilizing material needed for the war effort was circumvented to military production.  Mint officials changed the 1941 pre-war alloy of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel to 59 percent copper, 35 percent silver, and 9 percent manganese, and they did this before end of the year.  This resulted in 1941 nickels of both varieties, distinguished by the location of the mint marks.  The larger the normal mint mark was moved from the right side of the Monticello, to above the building, and the Philadelphia mint used a ‘P’ for the first time to denote its coinage.

The production of proofs was also disrupted by the war.  As the exacting process was time consuming and the end result only of interest to numismatic collectors, it was decided to suspend production beginning in 1943.  The striking of proofs did not resume until 1950, making the 1942 proof in war issue silver the only proof available, increasing its value.  There were also copper nickel Jefferson proofs struck, and their rarity commands as high a price as the silver variety.

The war issue silvers are now hoarded by those investing in the silver market.  The rising prices, along with numismatic interest, has given these coins of circumstance the attention and value they deserve.  A debt to history and a great generation, and the unique influences they had on coins, nickels in particular, mean a fine Jefferson Nickel collection is not complete without a war era specimen to display with pride.


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