14 of the Most Valuable Nickels: Which Ones and How to Spot Them

Many people use coins daily, never thinking they gain more value than one dollar. However, it is possible that the unused change in your pocket could contain a rarity worth more than a couple of cents.

One of the most expensive nickels goes for more than four million dollars, and people are discovering defective nickels that could pay for more than items found in vending machines.

What should you seek if you want to start your coin collection, and how much can certain nickels be worth?

What Factors Create Valuable Nickels?

Many determinants lead to the pricing of the most valuable nickels. Most of the time, they are the result of errors made by the mint. In fact, the most valuable nickel is missing words on its reverse design.

Once identifies a defect in a nickel, mints cease production as soon as possible. Resultingly, coins become rare, and their prices increase.

Another reason for nickels to gain value is because of their condition. When a mint produces a series of coins, they strive to develop them identically. That is not always the case. Produced by the San Francisco mint, 1919-S Buffalo nickels in excellent condition go for a high price because a bulk of the coins in the series are not in good condition. They are a rarity, although the coins produced at the same time are not.

The mint sometimes creates valuable nickels to be priced high for collectors. Proof coins, or Proofs, are valuable coins produced by a mint using first-rate dies and incredible attention to detail. You may be able to spot an average five-cent Jefferson nickel with the characteristics of Proofs worth more than a few cents.

Which Are the Rarest Nickels Worth Money?

The rarest and most valuable nickels can be worth anywhere from a couple of dollars to a couple of millions. It depends on their rarity. However, there are specific characteristics of nickels to identify. Let’s review the different kinds of nickels, so you can increase your likelihood of finding rare defects.

Jefferson Nickels

Jefferson Nickels

The Jefferson nickel is the current design of the five-cent coin. Since 1938, it has displayed the face of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. The reverse design includes an image of Monticello, which is the home Jefferson is known for.

Most valuable Jefferson nickels contain some form of a defect. Their uniqueness is what urges people to value them so highly.

A Jefferson nickel is one of the most common in circulation, making their design more accustomed. There are more than 63 billion circulating as of 2019. Therefore, coin users should keep an eye out for peculiar or missing imprints on their five-cent coins. It never hurts to take a quick scan.

Buffalo Nickels

Buffalo Nickels

Buffalo nickels, or Indian Head nickels, were the standard design of the five-cent coin before the Jefferson nickel. The mint distributed them between 1913 and 1938 using a design by James Earl Fraser.

The obverse side contains the side profile of a Native American man, while the reverse die has an imprinted animal. Interestingly, these coins are commonly called Buffalo nickels, but they display an American bison on the back.

San Francisco, Denver, and Philadelphia mints distributed two types of this coin in 1913. The obverse sides are identical, but the bison stands on a mound in one version. The other displays the animal on a flat plain.

These nickels have distinct characteristics that set them apart from other nickels. As such, it is easy to identify that a Buffalo nickel can be worth more than just a pretty penny.

Liberty Head Nickels

Liberty Head Nickels

Liberty Head nickels, also called V nickels, are shrouded in ambiguity. When they were first minted, the coin lacked the word “cents,” so the pricing was up for debate before correcting the error.

As a result of that error and price increase, the Liberty Head coin is one of the most valuable nickels.

The obverse side contains a profile of the goddess of liberty and the back has a capital “V” in the center. This is why many refer to them as V nickels.

The United States mint first released these coins in 1883 and ceased production in 1912. Similar to a Buffalo nickel, a Liberty Head nickel would not be too challenging to pinpoint. It is just a matter of encountering one.

Shield Nickels

Shield Nickels

Distributed from 1866 to 1883, Shield nickels were the first made of a copper-nickel combination. This is the same alloy used to produce today’s nickels.

The front side displays a shield surrounded by foliage. The opposite side has a large number five within a circle of stars. Some rarer versions of this coin have rays between the stars, making them more valuable.

14 Rare Nickels Worth Well More than Five Cents

Defected coins are rare. However, encountering one is even more unusual. Here are 14 valuable nickels that are worth going through your change:

1937-D Buffalo Nickel

1. 1937-D Buffalo Nickel

Starting off the list is one of the most valuable nickels of the 20th century. It was most recently sold for almost $100,000.

The value of this buffalo nickel is a result of minting errors. A mint inadvertently polished the die a little too intrusively. In doing this, they swiped away the front leg of the buffalo, leaving behind only three legs and the hoof of the missing fourth.

It has become easy to counterfeit one of these coins. However, to spot an authentic 1937-D buffalo nickel, look to see if there are imperfections under the animal’s belly. It should look like splotching. Fake nickels do not have this defect.

1927-S Buffalo Nickel

2. 1927-S Buffalo Nickel

Made with high quality, this nickel is part of the collection of uncirculated coins. That means this half dime has not been used for regular use, which would decrease its value.

However, there are just about three million of these coins that are available for purchase, making them considerably more than the value of pocket change.

Since the quality is so fine, nickel collectors can expect to see the 1927-S Buffalo Nickel cost about $125,000.

1924-S Buffalo Nickel

3. 1924-S Buffalo Nickel

Similar to the 1927-S, this buffalo nickel cannot be considered extremely rare. There are over a million distributed from the mint. However, their exceptional condition is what makes them so valuable.

This nickel maintains only a few minor defects but uses a vivid die and a sharp strike. To buy it, coin connoisseurs can expect to pay top dollar at the auction block. It was recently sold for a little over $100,000.

1965 Full Steps Regular Strike Jefferson Nickel

4. 1965 Full Steps Regular Strike Jefferson Nickel

The value of this nickel is just about $2,500, making it one of the cheaper ones on this list. Still, it can be a unique addition to a collection.

Full steps Jefferson nickels are worth more than average coins because of their strike. There should be at least five steps under the base of the Monticello. This means that the mint worker employed greater detail in striking them.

The United States mint designed this nickel for circulation, which is the reason it has a lower price. It still comes in excellent quality for avid coin collectors.

1913 Liberty Nickel

5. 1913 Liberty Nickel

There are only five known 1913 Liberty head nickels, designating this as the most valuable nickel in the country. The price is between four and five million dollars because of its extremely low mintage.

There is a lot of mystery around the creation of this Liberty Head nickel. It is possible that the mint used improper dies, thereby quickly stopping production.

Additionally, the Liberty Head nickel the mint first produced in 1883 did not have the word “cents” on the back. This led to people trying to change the price from silver half-dimes to five-dollar gold coins.

Due to this prized stigma around the coin, in addition to its low quantity, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel is one of the most expensive.

1880 Shield Nickel

6. 1880 Shield Nickel

Priced around $117,000, 1880 Shield nickels are the fewest in the Shield nickel series. The mint produced only about 16,000 for circulation. Less than a quarter are proof versions.

A Proof coin indicates the way the mint produces it. The 1880 Shield nickel Proof coins were struck at least two times with a high-quality die and feature a glossy finish.

Most proof coins are rare, as they require more time and effort to manufacture. Plus, the United States mint only manufactured Proof coins for collectors during the mid- to late-19th century.

Due to the infrequency of these Proof coins, they retain high prices for collectors and historical finance enthusiasts alike. It is incredibly rare to gather a complete set of Proof coins due to this series.

1920-D Buffalo Nickel

7. 1920-D Buffalo Nickel

This valuable nickel, produced by the Denver mint, has about 10 million in circulation. However, most of them have low-quality striking, making those with vivid angles and a bright luster rarer and more expensive. As a result, the price for this originally five-cent coin is almost $140,000.

1916 Buffalo Nickel

8. 1916 Buffalo Nickel

One of the more valuable Buffalo nickels, the 1916 version, features an error from the mint. The doubled die takes place on the obverse side where the last two digits of the year are doubled. However, it took a long time after they began to circulate for someone to recognize the error. Therefore, the mint classifies most of the 1916 Buffalo nickels as circulated change.

Despite this, any doubled die coin rises in value whether or not they were circulated. Their uncommonness is what makes collectors rave about them.

This Buffalo nickel has an approximate pricing of around $280,000.

1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel

9. 1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel

This Buffalo nickel is very similar to its 1916 counterpart. Both possess rarities resulting from a minting error.

The 1918/7-D Buffalo nickel contains a number 7 on the obverse side, just underneath the printing of the year 1918. These coins still circulated for about 15 years until someone brought one to an auction and identified the error.

Nowadays, it is difficult to come by these Buffalo nickels in mint condition because of how long they served as circulated coins. Their price is still around $350,000.

1867 Shield Nickel

10. 1867 Shield Nickel

As mentioned before, the U.S. mint produced Proof coins only to meet the demand of collectors at the end of the 19th century. That means that there are very few Proof of Shield nickels and even fewer from the 1867 mintage.

In fact, the mint produced only 25 Shield nickels this year. Only 10 of them survive to this day, increasing their overall face value.

What makes the 1867 version of the Shield nickel even more valuable is its design on the reverse side. Usually, these coins feature a big number 5 in the center surrounded by a circle of stars.

In this year’s version, there are rays in between each star. As a result, this pattern is extremely rare to come by.

The 1867 Shield nickels are priced at around $130,000.

1919-S Buffalo Nickel

11. 1919-S Buffalo Nickel

Produced by the San Francisco mint, coin connoisseurs can find more than seven million of these buffalo nickels in circulation. However, most of them are very low quality. This is most likely because the mint wanted to prolong the use of the die during production, or these coins are the product of a poor job.

When collectors and enthusiasts can find a 1919-S Buffalo nickel in high-quality condition, they are surely in possession of one of the rare nickels. They have a value of about $110,000.

1917-S Buffalo Nickel

12. 1917-S Buffalo Nickel

Originally a five-cent piece, this World War I-era coin has a value of about $185,000. Like many other rare nickels, the reason these are so high-priced is that only a few have a desirable production. The majority of coins in this Buffalo nickel series are very low-grade.

1942 Jefferson Nickel Series

13. 1942 Jefferson Nickel Series

During World War II, the materials of coins changed due to demand. As a result, nickels were produced between 1942 and 1945 using a combination of copper, silver, and manganese.

As production has changed since wartime, Jefferson nickels minted in 1942 are among valuable coins for connoisseurs. They used different materials other than the standard mix of nickel and copper, making them some of the few silver nickels that were in circulation.

1964 Jefferson Nickel Mirror Brokerage

14. 1964 Jefferson Nickel Mirror Brokerage

Quite possibly the rarest Jefferson nickels were minted in 1964. These unique and highly valuable coins have a double printing of the face of Thomas Jefferson on either side of the coin.

There is currently only one known Jefferson nickel printed this way. However, it sold for over one million dollars. Some collectors may only be hoping there are more copies of this valuable nickel.

The Final Word

You never know when you could stumble upon a valuable coin in your piggy bank. Many high-priced nickels go beyond their intended price and can even cost as much as precious metals.

As a result, you should always keep an eye out for those tedious errors committed by the mint. It could gain you way more than five cents.

Tim Schmidt


Tim Schmidt is an Entrepreneur who has covered retirement investing since 2012. He started IRA Investing to share his expertise in using his Self-Directed IRA for alternative investments. His views on retirement investing have been highlighted in USA Today, Business Insider, Tech Times, and more. He invested with Goldco.