Jefferson Nickel, Series 1938, a Rare Find

No date better illustrates the importance of savings rates for coins than the 1938-S Jefferson nickel. Its mintage suggests it should be a fine date, but it has never lived up to its promise, likely because it was saved as the first year of a new design.

New Jefferson nickel mintages were modest in the first year. We see a 1938-D Buffalo nickel because the new design wasn't ready for manufacturing in the early days of the year. After the redesigned Jefferson cent was completed, significant mintages became impossible.

Thus, the 1938 Jefferson nickel total for Philadelphia is 19,515,365, which seems considerably higher than it is. There are a few later Philadelphia Jefferson nickels with a lower mintage, but the 1938 is considerably lower than it seems.

The 1938-D had a low mintage of 5,376,000. Since the 1939-D was lower, it probably didn't appear that low. Realistically, rolls and bags would be popular if Jefferson nickels had that little mintage today. The 1938-S, the third Jefferson nickel, had the lowest mintage at 4,105,000 pieces. That's another low total that doesn't garner much notice today. Ironically, these coins were not in safe proof or mint sets despite a mintage of slightly over 4.1 million.

The 1938-S Jefferson nickel was respected by collectors for some time. Many kids collecting from circulation in the 1950s spotted the 1938-S mintage and thought it was a good date. The 1938-S was tougher than any Jefferson nickel dates save the 1950-D and lower-mintage 1939-D, according to circulation data.

However, the 1938-S has struggled since the 1950s. Mintage hasn't altered since 1938 or the 1950s, but the 1938-S is known as an available date in top grades, so no one is impressed. The 1938-S costs $2.50 in VF-20, which is pricier than most other dates, but at $12 in MS-65, many may purchase a top-grade example while sending their kids to college.

Getting a 1938-S in MS-65 with Full Steps isn't expensive. 1938-S costs $165 in MS-65 with Full Steps. This date is higher than the preceding two but not high enough for the grade. Many dates have greater pricing, sometimes much higher.

The 1938-S has had a similar predicament in recent decades. Uncirculated 1938-S rolls cost $280, which may reveal the future. It's hard to find an uncirculated 1938-S Jefferson nickel for sale, making it a challenging coin.

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