Making Moderns column from March 14, 2016, Weekly issue of
From 1938 to 2003, the U.S. Mint implemented a number of refinements,
little tweaks and modifications to the Jefferson 5-cent coin. For
example, on 1939 “nickels” we pay great heed to whether a coin has the
reverse style of 1938 (wavy steps) or 1940 (straight steps). Oddly, a
much more dramatic design change seemingly goes unnoticed.
There had been a modest attempt to strengthen the central details of
the Jefferson 5-cent coin in 1967. Seeing only minor improvement, in
1971 engravers at the Mint reworked the entire reverse design. All of
the door and window outlines on Monticello were sharpened. Most
visually significant, the roof balustrade was rendered in crisp detail
for the first time ever on a Jefferson 5-cent coin. The accompanying
images show the former design, called “Reverse of 1967” and this new
version, “Reverse of 1971.”
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All known Jefferson 5-cent coins issued in 1971, as Proofs and for
circulation, are the new reverse type. Walter Breen in his Complete
Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, published in 1988,
speculated that examples of 1971 5-cent coins with the earlier reverse
type might possibly exist. When a coin can be found with both updated
and older design version details, it is referred to as a transitional
variety. To the author’s knowledge, no 1971 Jefferson, Reverse of
1967 5-cent coins have ever been reported.
For coins from 1972, however, it gets much more interesting.
Circulation-issue Jefferson 5-cent coins struck in 1972 at both the
Philadelphia and Denver Mints can be found with both reverses, the new
type being substantially more common than the former type.
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At present, few collectors are interested in the 1972 transitional
varieties of the Jefferson 5-cent coins. In researching this article,
I failed to find a single offering of a 1972 Jefferson 5-cent coin
attributed by reverse subtype. Neither Numismatic Guaranty
Corp. nor Professional Coin Grading Service currently
I also examined 112 listings of 1972 and 1972-D 5-cent coins on
eBay. Twenty-seven had no reverse image. Of the 43 and 42 auctions
examined for the 1972 and 1972-D coins, respectively, I found only one
1972 Jefferson 5-cent coin with the Reverse of 1967. All other 84
coins were Reverse of 1971.
The 1972 and 1972-D coins with Reverse of 1967 will likely trade for
a premium over the more common Reverse of 1971.