~ NINETEEN-FORTY-NINE NICKEL ~
I got a nickel back during a recent coffee-shop transaction and put it in my pocket. I’m what you would call a “fallen-away numismatist” – (much like my other “fall-aways”, such as the Fallen-Away-Catholic; or Jewish-Convert-having-drifted-from-the-active-current, now spinning idly near the shore) – rarely in the habit of perusing my change.
As a child bitten by the coin-collecting bug, I found lots of treasures going through whatever piles of metallic sub-divisions of a dollar I’d chance by. The convenience store across the street trusted me enough to inspect their till once a week or so. There were still Buffalo Nickels in circulation, as well as the pre-cursors of all present-day denominations except the penny. Heck, when I was 12 or 13, I would go to the bank and exchange paper money for silver dollars, and spend these all over town (it was a small town). Store proprietors would ask “are you from Montana?”
“No, I’m from here.” (“Here” was not Montana).
Emptying my pockets at home, I noted the one coin which was more worn than the other shinier ones. I actually needed a magnifying glass to determine the date. 1949. Sixty-eight years old. I felt a bit of affinity towards this object – and the deal would have been further cemented had there been a “D” mintmark on the reverse, just to the right of Monticello. We both originated in the same year, but not the same town. A small “D” where mintmarks go would mean we both hailed from the Queen City of the Plains. However – we’d both been around the block. Several blocks. Many times.
Truman was President. The fall-out was still drifting down from the skies after that big global con-copulation a few years before. This coin was new once. As I must have been.
No, this is NOT a “valuable” coin. Of 60-million made, I’ll bet there are a lot of litter-mates remaining. But, where had this particular specimen been? Was it spent by anyone famous? Seriously IN-famous? Gone over-seas and come back? Starting with the reverse, so many people had visited Monticello that the stairs were completely worn. But TJ displays the same resolute set of the jaw, albeit with worn features (not so much “wrinkled”) and thread-bare coat.
In present-day U.S. currency, no other object of monetary exchange can still be in circulation this old and un-noticed, except for the Jefferson nickel. YOU would grab a Buffalo (or earlier) nickel if you saw one, right? Pennies before 1959 – the “wheat-backs” are virtually out-of-circulation, as my spouse and I sold many hundreds of wheat-backs to coin-dealers earlier this year for DOUBLE THE VALUE. Yes, that’s right – 2¢ each. Dimes? Quarters? Halves? Any of those before 1965 have SILVER in them, and are worth more than ten times face value for that valuable metal alone. Currency? When have you last seen a silver certificate? (I think those were replaced by Federal Reserve Notes in 1965 – maybe a little later).
Sigh. Think I’ll hang onto this for a while.
Some Jefferson Nickel trivia: the designer was Felix Schlag. His initials are still discernible as a mark at the coin’s edge just below TJ’s throat. Mr. Schlag’s work was a first for U.S. numismatic history (‘minor coins’) in that he won a competition, out-scoring over 350 other artists and also won the prodigious sum of $1000! This nickel was first introduced into circulation in 1938 and the design remained basically unchanged until 2004. As far as I know, there aren’t any real “valuable” mintages – other than a few with mintages less than 5-million and in “uncirculated” (or ‘new’) condition (And the ‘war-time silver’ Jeffersons. But that’s a different story.)