1942 - 1945 Silver Jefferson Nickel (United States)
With the entry of the United States into World War II, nickel became a critical war material, and the Mint sought to reduce its use of the metal. On March 27, 1942, Congress authorized a nickel made of 50% copper and 50% silver, but gave the Mint the authority to vary the proportions, or add other metals, in the public interest. The Mint's greatest concern was in finding an alloy which would use no nickel, but still satisfy counterfeit detectors in vending machines. An alloy of 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese proved suitable, and this alloy began to be coined into nickels from October 1942. In the hopes of making them easy to sort out and withdraw after the war, the Mint struck all "war nickels" with a large mint mark appearing above Monticello. The mint mark P for Philadelphia was the first time that mint's mark had appeared on a US coin. The prewar composition and smaller mint mark (or no mint mark for Philadelphia) were resumed in 1946. In a 2000 article in The Numismatist, Mark A. Benvenuto suggested that the amount of nickel saved by the switch was not significant to the war effort, but that the war nickel served as a ubiquitous reminder of the sacrifices that needed to be made for victory.
Within the war nickel series collectors recognize two additions, one official, the other counterfeit. Some 1943-P nickels are overdated. Here a die for the previous year was reused, allowing a "2" to be visible under the "3". In addition, a number of 1944 nickels are known without the large "P" mintmark. These were produced in 1954 by Francis LeRoy Henning, who also made counterfeit nickels with at least four other dates.
The Jefferson nickel has been the five-cent coin struck by the United States Mint since 1938, when it replaced the Buffalo nickel. Since 2006, the copper-nickel coin's obverse has featured a forward-facing portrayal of early US President Thomas Jefferson by Jamie Franki. The coin's reverse is the original by Felix Schlag; in 2004 and 2005, the piece bore commemorative designs.
First struck in 1913, the Buffalo nickel had long been difficult to coin, and after it completed the 25-year term during which it could only be replaced by Congress, the Mint moved quickly to replace it with a new design. The Mint conducted a design competition in early 1938, requiring that Jefferson be depicted on the obverse, and Jefferson's house Monticello on the reverse. Schlag won the competition, but was required to submit an entirely new reverse and make other changes before the new piece went into production in October 1938.
As nickel was a strategic war material during World War II, nickels coined from 1942 to 1945 were struck in a copper-silver-manganese alloy which would not require adjustment to vending machines. They bear a large mint mark above the depiction of Monticello on the reverse. In 2004 and 2005, the nickel saw new designs as part of the Westward Journey nickel series, and since 2006 has borne Schlag's reverse and Franki's obverse.