100 Greatest U.S. Modern Coins Series: 1990-S, Doubled Die Obverse, Jefferson Nickel, Proof

Varieties in numismatics occur usually due to mint errors or design changes. While there may not be very many varieties when it comes to Proof coins as their production is generally handled with extreme care, it can and has happened. In 1990, it happened in a big way as three coins from the 1990 Proof Set were found to have significant variety details. That leads us to our next entry in the 100 Greatest United States Modern Coins series as published by Whitman Publishing. With help from authors Jeff Garrett and Scott Schechter, we will take a closer look at one of those three coins from the 1990 Proof Set and determine just how and why the variety is popular amongst collectors.

#69 - 1990-S, Double Die Obverse, Jefferson Nickel, Proof

In 1990, the United States Mint released the Proof Set in Original Government Packaging as they normally do every year for the annual set. However, unbeknownst to them, the set contained three varieties, or oopsies, as it goes: the 1990, No S, Lincoln cent, the 1990-S Doubled Die Obverse Washington quarter, and the 1990-S Doubled Die Obverse Jefferson nickel. All of them gracing this top 100 compilation, the Jefferson nickel comes in at #69.

Most double die coins find themselves the product of a mistake when the die was being made. Duplication and misplacement found its way on the impression from the hub which then passed on to the final design. This is what happened for this coin contained in the 1990 Proof Set. The coins show the doubling in the same way on the nickel, making them distinct features and causing a variety. “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the obverse shows average doubling while stronger doubling can be seen at the designer’s initials as it nearly shows a complete separation of the two sets. The profile of Jefferson on the obverse also shows light doubling. Some visible to the naked eye, some more prominent using a loupe.

Double Die varieties are more rare amongst Proof coins as they are generally inspected and treated with more care, making this coin and the coins like it from the 1990 Proof Set and beyond uncommon. Each obverse die in the case of the Jefferson nickel is used to strike just 2,500 coins in the Proof series, sometimes even less as standards for Proof coins are high. With that in mind, the maximum mintage estimated for this coin is 2,500, but there are only 50 known examples.

The doubling of this coin was reported in 1999, a considerable time gap between its release and its discovery and announcement to the public. It was initially found in 1997 by a collector who then shared it with just a few collector friends hoping to find more to validate and confirm the double die variety. Without luck in finding more in those two years, he would finally get his 1990-S Jefferson Nickel authenticated at a Texas Numismatic Association convention in 1999. He reported the authentication of the nickel to CONECA which is an organization that records varieties and promotes them within the hobby.

Even after announcing the discovery of this new variety, the nickels were rare and hard to come by. However, when they are found, they are very strong in contrast and display a high state of preservation. While there is no doubt there are more of the coins out there, the hunt for them remains even to this day.

This coin has moved down nine spots since the first edition of this publication (#60).