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Discovering the Value of the 1948 Jefferson Nickel

Discovering the Value of the 1948 Jefferson Nickel

The 1948 Jefferson nickel is a coin with very modest value, except at the highest uncirculated grades. It has no unusual die variations to perplex those building type sets. The coin survives in large numbers and collectors wanting to have a nice example for display will have no problem uncovering several good choices from each mint if they are patient and willing to shop for just the right specimen.

As with any Jefferson nickel, collectors shopping for an uncirculated coin should pay special attention to the number of steps found on Monticello on the reverse. Coins with five or six steps showing are known as “full step” coins, and these command a higher price than ordinary coins.

Production of the 1948 Jefferson Nickel

DatePhiladelphiaDenverSan Francisco
Source: Red Book

All three branches of the U.S. Mint produced at least some Jefferson nickels in 1948. Philadelphia continued to be the dominant mint, while San Francisco continued its decline in production, as the Mint there proceeded on its path towards closure.

While the number of Jefferson nickels produced in 1948, over 145 million, may not seem large by today’s standards, it was clearly sufficient to meet the demands of commerce at the time, and remains sufficient to meet the interest of collectors. Enough good specimens are available, so that discerning collectors can and should be somewhat particular in their purchases.

How Much Are 1948 Jefferson Nickels Worth?

In general, Jefferson nickels from the years immediately following World War II are fairly common in all but the highest grades, so that coins graded much below Very Fine or Extremely Fine aren’t sought by serious collectors and have no numismatic value. Such coins can still be found fairly often in pocket change or rolls of nickels, with patience, and can be useful in filling out a beginner’s coin folder, as a way of introducing someone to the hobby.

At the very highest level, of Mint-State coins showing five or six steps on the porch of Monticello, prices can become significantly higher.

1948 Nickel Value Chart
Uncirculated MS63Uncirculated MS65Uncirculated MS67
1948 5C$4.05$13.50$1,620.00
1948 5C FS$29.70$88.00$2,500.00
1948-D 5C$4.05$10.80$247.00
1948-D 5C FS$29.70$455.00
1948-S 5C$4.05$9.45$214.00
1948-S 5C FS$29.70$1,020.00
Source: CDN CPG® (Retail)

Values for 1948 Jefferson Nickels

1948 5C
Image credit: PCGS

Many nickels struck in Philadelphia have fine appearances, with shiny, frosty surfaces. A patient collector can find some truly outstanding examples. As many or more nickels from the same year were struck from versed dies, and have rough, pitted, or grainy surfaces, while still carrying the same grade as the nicer coins. Discerning collectors should wait for the right coin to come along, and not just “buy the grade.”

A nice 1948 Jefferson nickel graded XF-40 can still be found in coin dealers or at coin shows for $0.50, while a similar coin graded AU-55 should cost only slightly more, around $0.85.

Q. David Bowers, in his guidebook on nickels, estimates that about 10% of the uncirculated 1948 nickels graded MS-65 or higher show five steps on the reverse. He describes 1948 nickels showing all six steps as being “very scarce.”

Uncirculated 1948 nickels which don’t show a full set of five or six steps remain cheap at all but the highest grade. Such a coin, in the MS-63 grade, should cost $4.05. A better coin, graded MS-65, should cost $13.50. In contrast, uncirculated coins showing a full set of steps sell for much more. An uncirculated coin, graded MS-63 or MS-64, with five or six steps, should sell for $30, or a little under. A slightly nicer specimen, graded at MS-65, showing full steps, can still be found for under $100.

At the very highest grades, with full steps, uncirculated 1948 nickels can become objects of spirited bidding. In November 2023, Heritage Auctions sold a 1948 nickel graded MS-67 FS for $2,640.  The auction description stressed the coin had been struck from comparatively new dies, with no loss of detail, and that 1948 Jefferson nickels graded MS-66 or higher were comparatively rare.

A more typical high end 1948 Jefferson nickel might be the coin Heritage Auctions sold in October 2021. The coin, graded MS-66, sold for $144.

Values for 1948-D Jefferson Nickels

1948-D 5C
Image credit: PCGS

As with 1948 Jefferson nickels struck in Philadelphia, the quality of nickels struck in Denver in that year varies widely. However, there are enough outstanding specimens with a good finish and good eye appeal that a patient collector will have no problems in obtaining a nice coin. If one is hunting for specimens with full steps in an uncirculated grade, there may be more of a challenge, but even this will prove feasible.

As with 1948 Philadelphia nickels, serious numismatic interest begins only with the Very Fine and Extremely Fine grades of the 1948-D nickel. An XF-40 specimen will cost $0.60, which is to say only slightly more than a Philadelphia 1948 nickel. A better coin, graded AU-55, may be a bit harder to come by at once, and may cost as much as $1.90.

Prices of lower and intermediate uncirculated grades of the 1948-D nickel, which don’t show full steps, are in line with similar coins from Philadelphia. A 1948-D nickel, graded MS-63, should cost a little over $4, while a better coin, graded MS-65, may be slightly cheaper than a similar coin out of Philadelphia, and cost around $10 or $11.

At the higher end, but still with no full steps, a 1948-D nickel can sometimes be found at surprisingly cheap prices. In April 2022, Heritage Auctions sold a 1948-D nickel, graded MS-66, no full steps, for $53. In December 2023, Heritage Auctions sold a 1948-D nickel, graded MS-67, no full steps, for $91.

Uncirculated 1948-D nickels with full steps can sell for significant sums. At the lowest grade, a 1948-D nickel, graded MS-63 or MS-64, showing full steps, should cost under $15, while a similar coin graded at MS-65, full steps, should cost just under $30.

A high grade 1948-D nickel, graded MS-67 and showing full steps can still be purchased at auction for just over $200, and was as recently as December 2023. The very highest grades, of MS-67+, fetch high prices at auction. In April 2020, a 1938-D nickel, graded MS-67+ FS, sold for $3,120 at Heritage Auctions. The auction notes stated that while Jefferson nickels were common, nickels with a grade of MS-67+ were scarce. The coin sold had fine details, and only a slight tone from age, with a sharp strike and no serious flaws. In September 2023, another 1948-D nickel with the identical grade, but perhaps heavier coloration from toning, sold for $1,500. The auction notes indicate that only about 10 nickels have a grade of MS-67+ according to the grading services.

Values for 1948-S Jefferson Nickels

1948-S 5C
Image credit: PCGS

The San Francisco Mint coined the fewest nickels in 1948, but significant numbers survive, and prices for the coin are quite modest, especially in the lower grades.

At the grades of Extremely-Fine or About-Uncirculated, collectors may find examples are slightly less expensive for 1948-S nickels than for 1948 or 1948-D nickels. A 1948-S nickel, graded XF-40, can be found for as little as $0.40, while a nickel graded at AU-55 can be found for $1.10.

Among uncirculated coins, a 1948-S Jefferson nickel, graded MS-63 costs about the same as a 1948 nickel struck in Denver or Philadelphia, and should be priced around $4 or a little over. A slightly nicer coin, graded at MS-65, should be available for under $10.

Nickels with full steps are also readily available at lower grades. A 1948-S nickel graded MS-63 or MS-64 showing full steps should cost around $16, while a better one, graded MS-65, should still be available at a cost under $30. In December 2023, a 1948-S nickel graded MS-66 FS sold at auction for $87.

Nickels with a grade of MS-67 are less common, and can fetch higher sums. In September 2023, a 1948-S nickel graded MS-67 FS sold for $960.

The highest grades of 1948-S nickels, at MS-67+ and showing full steps, are very rare and, accordingly, very expensive. In August 2018, a 1948-S nickel, graded MS67+ FS, sold for $2,640 at Heritage Auctions. The auction note pointed out that in grades of MS-65 and MS-66, the 1948-S nickel is plentiful, even with full steps under consideration. At the very high grade of MS-67+, the coin is rare. This particular coin showed some die weakness on the reverse, but none where the steps were concerned.

Are There Any 1948 Proof Jefferson Nickels?

The U.S. Mint stopped the production of proof coins after 1942 as a wartime measure. Instead of making proof coins, the Mint focused on making wartime medals. Proof coinage would not resume until 1950. Therefore, there are no genuine 1948 proof Jefferson nickels.

1948 Jefferson Nickel Errors

Error coins, which arise due to manufacturing defects in the coining process at the Mint, are popular and valuable. Many collectors seek them out separately from regular coins. Such specimens routinely have higher value than ordinary coins of the same value. Jefferson nickels are no exception, though comparatively few seem to have come to market in recent years.

A very common type of error is the off-center strike. Ideally, a coin blank, called a planchet, falls onto the stationary “anvil” die, and is held in place by a retaining collar. If the planchet fails to fall onto the center, or if it isn’t held by the retaining collar correctly, the moving “hammer” die will not strike it dead center. The result is an “off-center” coin containing only a partial image. Such coins are easily spotted and tend to be removed from circulation quite quickly by collectors.

1948-S 5C Struck 15% Off Center
Image credit: Heritage Auctions

In October 2012, a 1948-S Jefferson nickel, struck 15% off center and graded MS-64, full steps, sold for $391 at auction.

Another common error type is the “ragged clip.” A ragged clip occurs on a coin planchet when the punch used to make planchets strikes the edge of the metal sheet which is used as raw material. The result is a coin which lacks a rounded edge at one point in its circumference.

In August 2010, Heritage Auctions sold a two coin lot of ragged clip errors, consisting of a 1943-S Jefferson nickel and a 1948-D Jefferson nickel. The 1948-D nickel was graded MS-65. The two coins together sold for $89.

Technical Specifications of the 1948 Jefferson Nickel

The Jefferson five cent piece, traditionally simply called a “nickel,” was usually composed mostly of copper. The coin is an alloy of 75% copper and 25% nickel. During and after World War II, the Mint changed the composition of the nickel, using silver alloy between 1942 and 1945. In 1946, the Mint reverted back to the pre-war composition. The Jefferson nickel has a diameter of 21.2 millimeters and a weight of 5 grams.

The designer of the nickel, Felix Schlag, responded to a public competition for a design which could replace the Indian Head or Buffalo nickel. Although the Buffalo nickel design was reasonably popular, the Mint found it difficult to coin in practice, and Mint officials were willing to be rid of it in 1938. Schlag, together with nearly 400 other contestants, were called upon to create a portrait bust of Jefferson for the obverse, and a design featuring Jefferson’s home, Monticello, for the reverse.

Schlag’s original design featured a profile portrait of Jefferson similar to the one adopted. His original reverse consisted of a three-quarter view of Monticello, seen corner-on. The Mint preferred a more traditional frontal view of the building, which was ultimately adopted.

Schlag received the prize of $1,000. The Mint insisted on a number of uncompensated revisions, and in the end, Schlag estimated that he about broke even.


In summary, the 1948 Jefferson nickel is an excellent starting point for collectors interested in learning about the coin, and in building up inexpensive sets. Very attractive examples are available at modest prices, and even at some of the higher uncirculated grades for those collectors with slightly larger budgets.

The Jefferson nickel series is one which rewards a trained eye and a bit of connoisseurship over a simple chasing of grade numbers. The distinction between nickels with partial steps and full sets of steps is an important one, and often overlooked by investors who regard coins as simple statistics, rather than works of art. Such an approach is fine for many fields of investing, but coins are an aesthetic as well as a monetary proposition, and collectors with a good eye can reasonably find bargains and rewards.