What are War Nickels?
By | May 31, 2017

20 coin roll, obverse and reverse faces of the $1 Face Circulated War Nickels, 35% Silver, 1942-45.

$1 Face Circulated War Nickels 35% Silver, 1942-45, 20 Coins

Wars have affected money production in many different ways. Lose a war and your currency may become worthless as a Confederate Dollar. The expense of running a war can lead to a new form of currency like the U.S paper dollar. And the need for strategic metals can force a nation to look for new components for its coins.

It was that strategic need that gave birth to one of the more distinctive U.S. coins—the so-called War Nickel—and time has caused it to become sought by both collectors and investors.

Pre-War Nickels

The nickel is a fairly recent coin, having replaced the 90% silver Half Dime shortly after the Civil War. The 3-cent coin was a copper-nickel alloy and had been popular, so when a new 5-cent coin was proposed, a powerful nickel lobby persuaded Congress to specify a 25% nickel, 75% copper alloy for the new design.

The first new 5-cent coins, known as Shield Nickels were a flop. They were unpopular, hard to produce, and not very appealing, so production was halted in 1876. A second coin, the Liberty Head nickel, fared better, enjoying a 30-year run when production was resumed in 1883.

The Buffalo Nickel replaced the Liberty Head design in 1913, followed by the Jefferson Nickel in 1938, a design that continues, with several modifications, today.

War Nickels

By 1941, 300 million nickels were being made annually consuming over 400 tons of the metal. Turns out nickel is pretty important when it comes to fighting a war. It’s a major component of stainless steel and is also used in aircraft engines, ships, and land vehicles. Those things were more important to the war effort than coins, so from mid-1942 through 1945, nickels were changed to contain 56% copper, 9% manganese…and 35% silver, the only nickels that ever contained it. Who knew that, at least in the U.S., nickel was more important than silver when it came to fighting a war?

Post-War Nickels

With the end of WWII, Jefferson Nickels reverted to their original copper-nickel composition, and that’s still the mixture used today. But the price of both nickel and copper have risen steadily over the years, and for a time, it cost the Mint over 10 cents to make a nickel. To prevent massive melting of both nickels and pennies, a law was passed preventing the melting and export of pennies and nickels and subjected an offender to a $10,000 fine. Since then, the price of nickel has stabilized, and the coin’s metal value is barely under its face value. Meanwhile, the Mint is exploring less expensive alternatives for future coins.

War Nickels Today

Nearly a billion of the coins were produced during the war years, and a great many have survived to the delight of both collectors and investors. To collectors, they represent an important period of history, and some mintages can bring quite a bit of money, especially those in top condition.

The composition of War Nickels attracts investors since each one contains about $1 worth of silver, and rolls or bags of heavily-worn coins, known as “culls” or “junk silver,” can be had for little more than their melt value. When silver prices rise, they can be sold at a profit, or the War Nickels can be held as a hedge against inflation.

Collecting War Nickels

War Nickels hold broad appeal to both coin collectors and investors. Examples in decent condition can be had for relatively little money, so they’re a good addition for beginning collectors, and the rarer ones in top condition are important parts of an experienced collector’s holdings.

Their 35% silver content is a lure for bullion collectors and investors.

The Great American Coin Company® offers circulated War Nickels in 20-coin rolls and 100-coin bags at excellent prices. They’re just some of the wide selection of collectible U.S. and foreign coins and banknotes available online from The Great American Coin Company. We keep adding items as they become available, so visit us frequently. And while you’re there, be sure to visit our blog for interesting and timely articles about coins, currency and precious metals.

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