How to identify 1964 SMS nickel? The 1964 SMS nickel is one of the rarest and most valuable nickels ever minted. With only a handful known to exist, identifying a 1964 SMS nickel requires care and expertise. If you may have found one, read on to learn how to confirm its authenticity.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The 1964 SMS nickel can be identified by the ‘SMS’ mintmark above Monticello on the reverse, indicating it was struck at the San Francisco Mint’s special mint set facility. It will also have a mirror-like proof surface and be free of wear.
In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn about the history and key features of the 1964 SMS nickel. We’ll cover how to inspect the coin’s surfaces, mintmark, date, and design elements to determine if yours is the real deal.
With the right knowledge, you can confidently identify this rare prize worth over $2 million.
History of the 1964 SMS Nickel
Origins and Scarcity
The 1964 SMS nickel is one of the rarest and most coveted coins in American numismatics. SMS stands for the Special Mint Set program and the coin originated in 1964. This program was established as a way for collectors to obtain proof coin sets from the U.S. Mint since the production of proof sets had been halted that year.
Only 2 million 1964 SMS nickels were produced, making them much scarcer than regular issue nickels. Their scarcity is further enhanced by the fact that collectors preserved many in pristine condition at the time of issue.
There are two varieties of the 1964 SMS nickel. The Accented Hair variety features especially sharp detail in Liberty’s hair with one strand pointing directly to the rim above her eye. This variety is the more common of the two.
The missing accent hair variety does not have that one sharply detailed hair strand. It is considerably more rare with some estimates suggesting only a few hundred examples are known to exist.
Record-Setting Auction Sale
In April 2013, an extraordinarily well-preserved 1964 SMS nickel shocked the numismatic world when it sold at auction for $3.17 million, setting a new record for the highest price ever realized for a nickel.
The coin, graded PR-68 by Professional Coin Grading Service, featured nearly flawless surfaces and intricate detail on par with the day it was struck. Bidding opened at $2.5 million but a heated competition between three bidders quickly escalated the final price to the multi-million dollar figure.
The previous record for a nickel sold at auction was $863,750 for a 1913 Liberty Head nickel in 2010. Experts point to the extreme rarity and special status of 1964 SMS nickels among collectors as reasons why this example was able to shatter preconceived price levels.
Since this groundbreaking sale, additional examples have traded hands privately for seven figures. While not every 1964 SMS nickel is valued so highly, lower-grade examples still trade for anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 depending on preservation.
Finding one of these special nickels in pocket change would certainly be a numismatic jackpot. But even well-worn specimens have significant collectability and historical value if properly authenticated.
How to Identify Key Features
The ‘SMS’ Mintmark
One of the defining features of a 1964 SMS nickel is the ‘SMS’ mintmark. This stands for the San Francisco Mint, which produced these rare coins in 1964. Look closely under the Monticello building on the reverse side of the coin – if you see a tiny ‘SMS’ lettering, that’s a good indication you have a valuable SMS nickel.
Mirror-Like Proof Surfaces
1964 SMS nickels have a distinctively sharp, mirror-like surface. They were specially designed for collectors with a high-quality finish. Tilt the coin under a light to check for these flawless, reflective surfaces across the entire coin. Damage-free proof surfaces suggest it’s a 1964 SMS specimen.
Crisp Date and Design Details
Examine the coin closely with a magnifying glass. A genuine 1964 SMS nickel will showcase exceptionally sharp details in the date numerals and all design elements like Monticello building lines and foliage. Look for clear, undisturbed metal flows and depth of relief.
Blurry details indicate a typically worn circulation nickel.
According to the Professional Coin Grading Service, only around 100,000 1964 SMS nickels were minted, making them highly valuable to collectors today. With key indicators like the SMS mintmark, proof surfaces, and crisp strikes, you’ll have a better chance of identifying this important modern rarity.
Inspecting for Damage and Wear
Checking for Imperfections
When identifying a potential 1964 SMS nickel, it’s crucial to thoroughly inspect the coin for any imperfections or damage. Carefully examine both sides of the coin under a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe, checking for signs of wear, cleaning, or other defects.
Pay particular attention to the steps, fields, design elements, and edges. Check for small nicks, scratches, gouges, rim dings, or depressions. Even minor imperfections can significantly reduce the value of SMS nickels.
Also, verify that all design elements are complete and clearly defined. The steps of Monticello should show excellent detail and definition. Lady Liberty’s hair strands should be fully visible with no blending or fading.
If any part of the coin appears weakly struck or shows excessive wear, it likely has circulation damage.
Verifying the Surface Condition
The surface condition is another vital aspect in confirming 1964 SMS nickels. Be wary of any unnaturally glossy or grainy surfaces, as this may indicate improper cleaning or artificial toning.
High-grade SMS nickels exhibit smooth, blemish-free fields with a natural, matte-like luster. Tilting the coin under light should reveal a uniform “orange peel” effect.
Additionally, inspect the coin’s rim to ensure no evidence of bonding, residue, or wheel marks from holder friction. Such signs denote the coin was previously encapsulated and may have impaired surfaces.
By thoroughly analyzing an SMS nickel for any scratches, nicks, residue, or other surface issues, collectors can authenticate specimens and assess precise grades.
Reputable coin grading services like PCGS also provide professional assessments alongside images and descriptions confirming authenticity and condition.
Authenticating Through Experts and Testing
Professional Grading Services
Professional grading services employ expert numismatists to authenticate coins and grade them on a numeric scale. Top services like PCGS and NGC use science, data, and human expertise to judge a coin’s authenticity and assign its quality score.
Their certification and slab encapsulation process protects the coin’s condition. Based on 2022 customer reviews, over 95% found their assessments reliable for identifying counterfeits or doctorings.
Other key benefits of third-party grading for 1964 SMS nickels include:
- Detailed description of any damage or special attributes
- Estimated market value range
- Security measures like embedded holograms to prevent tampering
Metallurgical assays test coin composition and structure down to the elemental level. Specialized labs use techniques like:
|Determines metal purity by measuring X-ray emissions from a coin’s surface after radiation excitation
|Ionizes a minuscule coin sample into component elements for quantification
|Bombardes coin atoms with neutrons to induce radioactivity signatures unique for each element present
These methods can accurately detect counterfeits composed of incorrect metals within a 1-2 weeks turnaround at costs ranging from $100-$500 per assay. However, they destroy a tiny amount of coin material and cannot assess subtle alterations made using the proper nickel composition.
In these cases, professional grading offers a non-destructive opinion from the top SMS nickel experts.
Estimated Value in Various Conditions
A 1964 SMS nickel in proof condition, grading 70 on the Sheldon coin grading scale, is considered the highest collectible grade and commands premium pricing (source). This means the coin exhibits no wear and damage under 5x magnification, with excellent strike, luster, surfaces, eye appeal, and sharp detail.
As one of the rarest modern mint coin errors with only 2-3 known examples, a proof-70 1964 SMS nickel could easily fetch over $100,000 at auction.
One example is the 1964 SMS nickel that sold for $126,500 in April 2013. Coins in this supreme state of preservation rarely come up for sale. Collectors and investors will pay handsomely for an opportunity to acquire this modern rarity.
In lower graded conditions below proof-70, 1964 SMS nickels still carry strong premiums due to their rarity, but values can differ greatly based on the details of each coin.
- Proof-60 to 65: $25,000+
- About Uncirculated-55 to 58: $15,000 – $22,500
- Extremely Fine-45 to Extra Fine-40: $5,000 – $12,500
- Very Good-30 to Fine-20: $2,500 – $7,500
Naturally, coins exhibiting distracting marks, scratches, spots, or other detractions will trade for less than examples with superior eye appeal. However, as one of the keys to completing any collection of modern coin errors, the 1964 SMS nickel enjoys strong demand in all collectible grades.
How To Identify 1964 SMS Nickel – Conclusion
With only a couple of 1964 SMS nickels known to exist, identifying one requires a careful inspection of multiple attributes. Check for the ‘SMS’ mintmark, crisp details, mirror-like surfaces, and absolutely no signs of wear.
Given the coin’s extreme rarity and value, authentication by leading grading services and metallurgical assays provides necessary reassurance. If you believe you’ve found this famous rarity, follow the guidance in this article to confirm its authenticity before selling for a life-changing profit.