15 Most Valuable Rare Nickels (History & Types)

You can find four different collectible nickel types on the current coin market. Most are common, and you can buy one for an affordable price, but only dedicated and wealthy collectors can afford some rare pieces. It is tricky to estimate rare nickels value since it depends on their rarity, economic conditions, and current demand. Let’s see.

Nickel History

The history of American nickel coins started back in the American Civil Wartime. Since American currency was in crisis, people hoarded money made of gold and silver, and these coins nearly disappeared from the open market overnight.

On the other hand, the Mint’s resources in precious metals couldn’t keep up with increased demand. Consequently, the North faced the problem with the impossibility of daily transactions.

As soon as the war ended in 1865, the Mint spent months putting enough coins made of precious metals into circulation.

On the other hand, expanded industrial capacity has made it possible to launch larger quantities of nickel on the market. As a result, President Andrew Johnson approved the five-cent nickel pieces coinage in 1866.

The US Mint produced four nickel types. Some of these coins are rare nowadays, and collectors are prepared to spend a fortune to purchase one.

 

Nickel Types

Shield nickels (1866 to 1883)

Shield nickels (1866 to 1883)
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The Philadelphia mint produced a date set of sixteen Shield nickels without the mint mark or fifteen million pieces in total. Their value starts from $18 for heavily worn coins with a common date.

However, pieces produced from 1879 or 1880 can be worth $200 to $1,000, depending on their condition. Even though collectors don’t prefer Shield nickels, some rare versions can reach high prices. Key dates include:

  • 1877, 1878, and 1879
  • 1880 and 1881

For instance, 1880 Shield nickel was sold for $20,000, while 1875 Shield nickel reached $5,175. A few other rare dates were paid $1,800 to $3,900.

Liberty head nickels (1883 to 1912)

Liberty head nickels (1883 to 1912)
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The Liberty head (V) nickel has a history full of production errors. The first problems with Charles E. Barber’s design started almost immediately.

Since fraudsters started to gold-plate these nickels and used them as five-dollar gold coins, the Mint was forced to add the word CENTS to the reverse. Therefore, you can find two nickel varieties minted in the first year.

Even though the production finished in 1912, one Mint employee used coin dies and produced five pieces in 1913. Nowadays, these specimens are worth millions of dollars. The most pricey is the 1913 PR 66 Liberty head V nickel sold for $4,560,000 in 2018.

Other key dates include nickels minted in Philadelphia in 1885 and 1886 and pieces produced in San Francisco in 1912. They are worth approximately $2,000.

Buffalo nickels (1913 to 1938)

Buffalo nickels (1913 to 1938)

The Buffalo nickel is an American coinage icon minted for 25 years and is extremely popular nowadays. It is probably due to the design that includes a Native American and American bison, representing its historical roots.

Generally speaking, older Buffalo nickels, particularly those from the first few minting years, are typically rare and expensive. However, age is not the only factor defining their value, so you should care about their condition and possible scarce errors.

The list of key dates starts with the precious 1926 S MS 66 Buffalo nickel worth $322,000 and the 1913 D MS 68 Buffalo nickel (type 2) sold for $143,750 in 2008. Other rare coins worth approximately $100,000 include Buffalo nickels minted in:

  • Philadelphia in 1867 and 1880
  • San Francisco in 1913 (type 2), 1917, 1918, 1927, 1919, and 1924
  • Denver in 1920

However, the most expensive is an error 1918/7 D MS 65 Buffalo nickel paid $350,750 at auction. Collectors also appreciate and look for costly rarities, like:

  • 1935 Buffalo nickel (doubled die obverse)
  • 1937 D Buffalo nickel (three legs)
  • 1916 Buffalo nickel (doubled die obverse)

Jefferson nickels (1938 to 1964)

Jefferson nickels (1938 to 1964)

The Jefferson nickel was dedicated to the US President Thomas Jefferson and was the third American coinage with a former President’s image on the coin obverse.

This long-lasting series kept the original design for more than six decades without significant changes. Nickels minted from 1938 to 1964 are particularly desirable for collectors. The key dates include coins minted in:

  • Philadelphia in 1938
  • San Francisco in 1939
  • Denver in 1938, 1939, and 1950

 

The Most Valuable Rare Nickels

Once low-value coins can be expensive and prized pieces nowadays. Some of the rarest ones are worth a fortune, including:

1913 PR 66 Liberty nickel (the Olsen specimen)

1913 PR 66 Liberty nickel (the Olsen specimen)
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One of only five Kings of 20th-century coins was sold for a record $4,560,000 in 2018 during the Rarities night. No one knows why the US Mint made only five pieces, but its rarity and high demand make this nickel the most valuable specimen ever.

1918/7 D MS 65 Buffalo nickel (doubled die obverse)

19187 D MS 65 Buffalo nickel (doubled die obverse)

Coins with a number 7 underneath the digit 8 in the date were in circulation for almost 15 years. Thanks to Paul M. Lange, the first piece was offered at an auction in 1930. The high-grade specimens are scarce and costly nowadays. One reached a value of $350,750 in 2006.

1926 S MS 66 Buffalo nickel

1926 S MS 66 Buffalo nickel

The San Francisco mint produced the lowest mintage of Buffalo nickels in 1926. Only one high-quality specimen was sold for $322,000 at Chicago rarities sale in 2008.

Rare and most pricey nickels auction records

Coin Date Grade Auction date Auction price
Liberty head nickel 1913 PR 66 2018 $4,560,000
DDO Buffalo nickel 1918/7 D MS 65 2006 $350,750
Buffalo nickel 1926 S MS 66 2008 $322,000
DDO Buffalo nickel 1916 MS 64 2004 $281,750
Buffalo nickel type 2 1913 D MS 68 2008 $143,750
Buffalo nickel 1920 D MS 67 2008 $138,000
Buffalo nickel 1917 S MS 67 2008 $138,000
Shield nickel with rays 1867 MS 66 2004 $132,250
Buffalo nickel 1918 S MS 66 2008 $125,350
Buffalo nickel 1927 S MS 66 2008 $125,350
Shield nickel 1880 MS 66 2015 $117,500
Buffalo nickel 1919 S MS 66 2006 $109,250
Buffalo nickel 1924 S MS 66+ 2016 $105,750
DDO Buffalo nickel 1935 MS 65 2007 $104,650
Buffalo nickel with three legs 1937 D MS 67 2009 $97,750

1916 MS 64 Buffalo nickel (doubled die obverse)

1916 MS 64 Buffalo nickel (doubled die obverse)

This mint error with the last two digits doubling appeared because of improper coin die manufacturing. Since one numismatist discovered it after most pieces spent years in circulation, only a few rare specimens were saved in the mint state. One of them was sold in 2004 for $281,750.

1913 D MS 68 Buffalo nickel (type 2)

1913 D MS 68 Buffalo nickel (type 2)
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1913 was the first year of Buffalo nickel minting. While type 1 in high grade is pretty common, type 2 is scarce in the mint state. The most expensive piece was sold in 2008 for an impressive $143,750.

1917 S MS 67 Buffalo nickel

1917 S MS 67 Buffalo nickel

The San Francisco mint typically produced poorly struck Buffalo nickels during the war 1917 year. Since specimens with a highly detailed strike are scarce, you shouldn’t be surprised that one of them was sold for $138,000 in 2008.

1920 D MS 67 Buffalo nickel

1920 D MS 67 Buffalo nickel

Thanks to a low mintage, nickels minted in 1920 are uncommon at the coin market, particularly in the mint state. One quality struck piece was sold for $138,000 in 2008 at the Baltimore auction.

1867 PR 66 Shield nickel (proof with rays)

1867 PR 66 Shield nickel (proof with rays)
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During the 1800s, the US Mint produced proof coins only to the collectors’ demand, so they are rare nowadays. Pieces without the decorative rays between the stars on the reverse are particularly scarce.

Only 25 proofs were minted in 1867, and only ten are saved, making them the most valuable nickels in the Shield series. One was sold in 2004 for $132,250.

1918 S MS 66 Buffalo nickel

1918 S MS 66 Buffalo nickel

Only a few collectible Buffalo nickels produced during this war year were saved in the mint state. An extremely well-struck piece was sold for $125,350 at the Chicago rarities sale in 2008.

1927 S MS 66 Buffalo Nickel

1927 S MS 66 Buffalo Nickel

Buffalo nickels produced in San Francisco in 1927 are not rare, but it is hard to find pieces in uncirculated conditions. Therefore, they are always expensive, including a nickel sold for $125,350 in 2008.

1880 MS 66 Shield nickel

1880 MS 66 Shield nickel

The Philadelphia mint produced only 16,000 regular nickels and 3,955 proofs for circulation in 1880, making this date the lowest minting in the series. One of these pieces was sold in 2015 at auction in Florida for $117,500.

1935 MS 65 Buffalo nickel (doubled die reverse)

1935 MS 65 Buffalo nickel (doubled die reverse)

Thanks to the inappropriately aligned hub, some coin parts appear doubled. In this case, you can notice a strong doubling on the denomination and Latin saying E PLURIBUS UNUM on the coin reverse. The most expensive error piece was sold in 2007 for $104,650.

1937 D MS 67 Buffalo nickel (three legs)

1937 D MS 67 Buffalo nickel (three legs)

This piece is one of the most significant nickel errors minted in the 20th century. After trying to polish a coin die surface, the mint worker created an atypical variety, with the buffalo having the hoof on the ground but without a front leg. The most expensive coin was sold for $97,750 at auction in 2009.

 

Summary

Rare nickels are more expensive than ever. Many collectors set aside insane amounts of money to buy the most scarce pieces even though their denomination value is practically worthless. That makes these coins an excellent investment and the real treat for dedicated admirers.

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