Ways to Tell If a Nickel Is Silver


Most nickels are made from an alloy of copper and nickel, and only two types of U.S. five-cent pieces contain silver. The first piece, known as the half-dime, was made from 100 percent silver. The second piece, known as the Jefferson War Nickel, was made from a metal alloy of 56 percent copper, 35 percent silver and 9 percent manganese. Both of these coins are highly collectible, and their value depends on the date and location of the mint.

History of the Silver Nickel

  • The silver half-dime was produced from 1795 to 1873. The half dime is much smaller than a nickel and features an image of liberty on the front and an image of a bald eagle on the back. Different designs of the silver half-dime were produced during this time. The silver half-dime was eventually replaced by the nickel, and the nickel -- from the beginning -- was created from a nickel metal alloy. In World War II, nickel was strictly rationed for its use in protective armor plating, and from 1942 to 1945 the Jefferson War Nickel was produced to reserve nickel for the war effort.


  • The silver half-dime has a very distinct look and, because of the different designs that were issued for specific periods, collectors can identify the half-dime they have based on the dime's head and tail images. The Jefferson War Nickel looks similar to other types of Jefferson nickels. The profile of Thomas Jefferson is on the front or the head of the nickel, and the tail side of the nickel has an image of Jefferson's estate in Monticello, Virginia. However, the Jefferson War Nickel does contain a very large mint mark just above the image of Jefferson's estate. Collectors can clearly see the mint mark to determine where the coins were minted.


  • The value of the silver half-dime and the Jefferson War Nickel has increased due to the rise in silver's value and demand by coin collectors. The value of the half-dime ranges from $10 to well over $6,000, depending on the year and location of mint. The value of the Jefferson War Nickel ranges from $1 to more than $1,000, depending again on location and year of the mint.


  • Coin collectors interested in silver nickels need to keep in mind that the half-dime and the Jefferson War Nickel were the only two five-cent pieces produced in the U.S. that contain silver. Beware of anyone trying to sell you a "silver nickel" that is not either a half-dime or a Jefferson War Nickel. If you think you may have one of these coins, schedule an appointment with a reputable local coin dealer to have the coin examined by an expert.


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