Top 50 Most Valuable Nickels
This is a list of the 50 most valuable nickels of all time, from the very first U.S. nickel (the 1866 Shield nickel) to the present day. We ranked more than 130 of the most popular rare nickels by auction records, and these were the 50 most expensive.
Why Isn’t [famous nickel] Listed?
The biggest surprise we had when compiling this list was how many famous rare nickels didn’t make the cut. The 1936-D “3 and a half legs” Buffalo nickel ($20,700) and the 1883 “No Cents” Liberty nickel ($12,075) are just some of the popular rare nickels whose auction records scored below the $32,000 cut-off of the Top 50 most expensive nickels.
1883 Liberty Head nickel. The absence of the word "cents" in the design led to many of these 5-cent coins being plated in gold and pawned off as $5 coins!
Why Are There So Many Buffalo Nickels?
The other big surprise was just how many Buffalo nickels made the Top 50 Nickels list. There were two major reasons: popularity and supply of unimpaired coins. The Buffalo nickel is one of the most popular coins to collect. This means that demand for Mint State examples has been high for more than 100 years.
The difference between supply and demand is compounded by the high relief of the Buffalo nickel design. The high points of the coin, notably the cheek, feathers, and hair on the obverse and the top of the buffalo on the reverse were easily worn away.
Jefferson Full Steps (FS)
There have been 70 BILLION Jefferson nickels since its introduction in 1938. This explains the comparatively low all-time highs for most mintages, though several are worth thousands of dollars.
The truly rare Jefferson Nickels (and the only ones to make the Top 50 Most Valuable Nickels list) are those with “Full Steps” on Monticello on the reverse. The need to stretch out the life of the coin dies meant that most Jefferson nickels were not struck sharply enough to bring out the details of the building’s steps.
Those lucky enough to get a strike sharp enough to form Full Steps command premiums far above normally-struck coins. The extreme rarity of getting six full steps has led the coin grading industry to count five steps as Full Steps as well.
Read more about coin values and coin collecting from the author:
A published writer, Steven's coverage of precious metals goes beyond the daily news to explain how ancillary factors affect the market.
Steven specializes in market analysis with an emphasis on stocks, corporate bonds, and government debt.