Researchers may be getting a bit closer to understanding the nature
of a unique 1942-S Jefferson 5-cent coin that United States Mint
records say should not exist.
The anomalous coin, known since 1961, bears the original reverse
design style, with the S Mint mark positioned to the right of
Jefferson’s home at Monticello, though records state that the San
Francisco Mint did not strike any 1942-S 5-cent coins of that design
style. The coin is made of a silver-copper-manganese alloy (though in
recent years the coin’s composition has mistakenly been identified as
copper-nickel by some sources). Interestingly, the ratios of the three
metals in the coin’s makeup have been shown to differ from the standard.
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Multiple grading services have examined the coin over the decades.
Numismatic Guaranty Corp. examined and tested the coin but chose not
to authenticate it. Professional Coin Grading Service also examined
the coin and declined to authenticate. ANACS examined the coin when
the grading service was still part of the American Numismatic
Association; it chose not to authenticate the coin because testing
revealed a silver content that differed from the standard of 35 percent.
In early April, a group of noted numismatists, a majority of them
experts in error coins and die varieties, coin authentication, or Mint
research, began discussing the coin in a voluminous email exchange.
The discussion helped clear up some mysteries about the coin but
provided no final answers.
What we know
Here is what researchers know about the coin with a high degree of confidence:
- The coin has been known to exist since 1961, with the first
named owner being Ken Frith.
- The coin today cannot be
clearly identified as either counterfeit or genuine.
- According to Kevin Flynn, a die variety expert who initiated the
discussions, “Using the large photograph of the Frith specimen
[provided by NGC], the date was compared against the date on a
genuine 1942-S nickel and found to have the same size, shape, and
relative distance between the digits.” Examination of the date shows
no signs of alteration.
- The S Mint mark on the reverse
matches in size, shape, and style one of two Large S Mint marks
found on genuine 1941-S 5-cent coins. Examination of the S Mint mark
has shown no signs that it was added to a Philadelphia Mint coin by
- After testing by NGC, the alloy has been revealed
to be 50 percent silver, 45 percent copper and 6 percent manganese
according to David Lange, an error coin specialist with the firm.
The Mint standard is 35 percent silver, 56 percent copper and 9
percent manganese. However, producing the wartime alloy to the
standard specifications was difficult for the Mint, and certain
kinds of post-minting alteration can result in altered metallic
content on the surfaces.
- If a genuine San Francisco Mint
product, no one can identify why or when it was struck, or whether
other examples might have been struck but destroyed before leaving
The coin’s composition
Congress authorized changes to the composition of the cent and
5-cent coin during America’s involvement in World War II, to aid in
the transfer of strategically important metals like copper and nickel
from coinage production to the war effort.
The 5-cent coin’s standard composition of 75 percent copper and 25
percent nickel was replaced in 1942 with the aforementioned
copper-silver-managanese alloy but not before the Philadelphia and
Denver Mints struck 5-cent coins of the regular kind.
Flynn writes about the timeline for the switch in alloys: “Based
upon Roger Burdette’ archive research, it was found that Jefferson
nickel production was ceased in May 1942. The use of a silver alloy
for the Jefferson nickel ... was approved by Treasury Secretary
Morgenthau on September 1, 1942. The Engraver was instructed to add
the mint mark above Monticello on September 14th, and production began
on September 21, 1942 at the Philadelphia Mint.”
In recent years, the coin has been identified in some venues as
being of the standard 75 percent copper and 25 nickel alloy, including
in a Nov. 18, 2014, online announcement by SilverTowne, the
Winchester, Ind., firm.
However, the 2015 sixth edition of Cherrypickers’ Guide to Rare
Die Varieties of United States Coins, Volume 1, correctly
identifies the coin’s wartime composition, though the ratios of the
metals are not given.
Why was it struck?
The circumstances of the coin’s production, if it is genuine, are
unknown. Flynn offers some speculation, based on the contributions of
multiple participants in the discussion (Type 1 refers to the original
style of reverse): “Working dies during this period were only created
at the Philadelphia Mint. The dies were numbered and shipped to the
branch mints, usually starting in October and November of the previous
year. Even though the San Francisco Mint did not strike any Jefferson
nickels on copper-nickel planchets in 1942, it is more than likely
that they were still sent 1942 dated obverses and Type 1 reverses for
Jefferson nickel coin production for 1942, or may have had left over
Type 1 reverses left over from 1941. It is extremely unlikely that the
San Francisco Mint would have installed the new dies in 1942, struck
only a few coins and released them into circulation.”
Flynn added: “Testing on the new alloy would have been performed at
the Philadelphia Mint before the Treasury Secretary approved the
composition on September 1. Not only was it necessary to understand
how the alloy would strike in the coining press, but also how easily
the different metals were to extract when returned to the Mint and
melted. The Philadelphia Mint may have used Type 1 reverses to test
the new alloy, but there would have been absolutely no reason to test
these with an ‘S’ mint mark reverse. There are no test coins with a
Type 1 reverse on a wartime alloy as part of the Smithsonian
collection or in any private hands. These test coins were most likely
all destroyed. ...
“By September 21st, the Mint determined through production tests
that no more than 20% return of good blanks from original ingots could
be obtained through annealing furnaces and were far less than were
obtained from the copper-nickel alloy,” Flynn added. “In addition to
testing the alloy, the Philadelphia Mint would have tested the new
reverse with the mint mark above the dome of Monticello. They would
have checked whether there was any striking differences on the obverse
opposite the mint mark. There would have been no reason to test the
alloy or working dies at the San Francisco Mint unless a problem
occurred, which was not seen at the Philadelphia Mint. “
So what is this coin? We simply cannot say, other than to describe
it. We don’t know whether it is an error, a one-off deliberate
striking by a Mint employee, one of a larger quantity or test pieces,
or a really clever counterfeit. As Flynn writes, “For now, this coin
remains a mystery and a topic of great discussion.”