How to tell if a nickel is silver? Have you wondered if that old nickel sitting in your pocket change might be made of valuable silver? Silver coins and nickels can sometimes look similar at first glance, making it tricky to discern their true metal content.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Examine the nickel under good lighting and look for a mint mark above Monticello identifying it as wartime. Also, check for a large mint mark on the reverse. If you see these indicators, your nickel may be silver.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to confidently determine if your nickel is made of silver or some other metal. You’ll learn the key dates, mint marks, weights, visual indicators, and testing methods to inspect your coin.

How to Spot Key Silver Nickel Dates and Mint Marks

1942-1945 Wartime Silver Nickels

During World War II, the United States Mint created silver nickels from 1942 to 1945 to preserve nickel for military equipment production. These silver nickels are 35% silver and easily identified by the large mint mark above the dome of Monticello on the reverse of the coin.

The mint marks to look for are:

  • 1942-1945 P – Philadelphia Mint
  • 1942-1945 D – Denver Mint
  • 1942-1945 S – San Francisco Mint

These silver wartime nickels are becoming increasingly valuable to coin collectors and investors. In average condition, they are worth around $2-3 each depending on mint mark and year.

Weigh the Coin on a Precise Scale

One of the best ways to determine if a nickel is made of silver rather than a base metal like copper or nickel is to weigh it on a precise scale. Silver is much denser and heavier than copper or nickel, so an accurate weight can provide good evidence about a coin’s composition.

Use a Precise Digital Scale

For the most accurate results, use a digital jewelry scale or scientific scale that measures at least 0.1 grams. Many digital kitchen scales designed for food may not be precise enough to detect small differences in coin weights.

An alloy of 90% silver only weighs around 10% more than a pure copper/nickel five-cent coin. So for the most reliable results, the scale needs to measure this 10% difference, which is about 0.2-0.3 grams for a US nickel.

Weigh Multiple reference Coins

For the best comparison, weigh multiple known copper-nickel nickels from recent years first. This will establish their expected weight range on that specific scale.

US five-cent coins minted from 1942 to 1945 should weigh exactly 5.0 grams if uncirculated. Circulated base metal nickels will likely weigh 4.9-4.95 grams due to wear and tear from circulation. Then compare the mystery coin’s weight against this baseline.

Allow for Variations in Circulated Coins

Natural scratches, dents, and wear on circulated coins can cause small weight fluctuations even among common nickels. So a weight difference alone does not guarantee a coin’s metal content. But if a worn-in-the-pocket nickel weighs over 5 grams, for example, it raises good odds the coin has silver.

Uncirculated and proof condition coins will show the most accurate weight difference if silver, as they lack any circulation loss or damage effects.

Nickel Type Expected Weight Range
Copper-nickel 4.9-5.0 grams
35% silver alloy 5-5.5 grams

As the table shows, a 35% silver alloy five-cent coin should weigh around 0.2-0.5 grams more than its copper-nickel version. This 10% weight difference is large enough for an accurate digital jewelry or lab scale to detect reliably.

While weighing coins has limitations with circulated specimens, it offers a quick, non-destructive, and low-technology method to gauge the probability of silver composition over base metals. Just be sure to use a high-precision scale to get the best results.

Inspect the Nickel’s Color and Luster

When trying to determine if a nickel is made of silver, one of the first things to look at is the coin’s color and luster. Here are some tips on what to look for:


A real silver nickel will have a lighter, whiter color than a standard nickel made from cupronickel. While normal nickels have a yellowish appearance, silver nickels are more grayish-white in color.

Examine the fields of the coin (the flat, open areas) to get the best sense of the nickel’s base color. Tilting the coin under good lighting can help reveal its true hue.


The luster refers to how light reflects off the nickel’s surface. A silver nickel tends to have a brighter, more mirror-like shine compared to normal nickels.

Turn the coin at different angles under a light source to observe the luster quality. Silver is a very reflective metal, so you should see pronounced flashes of light dance across a real silver nickel.

Tarnishing and Toning

Silver is prone to tarnishing and toning over time when exposed to air and environmental elements. This can cause silver nickels to develop areas of blue, violet, or amber discoloration.

So the development of tarnish on an old nickel can be an encouraging sign that it contains real silver!

Just be aware that other nickel alloys can also tarnish and take on various patinas. So toning alone is not enough to definitively identify silver content.

By carefully inspecting both the original base color and luster of the nickel, as well as any signs of toning or tarnish, you can get a good idea if silver may be present in the coin.

Perform a Magnet Test

One of the easiest ways to determine if a nickel is made from silver rather than a nickel alloy is to do a simple magnet test. Silver is not magnetic, while nickel and other metals used in nickel alloy are. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do this:

  1. Get a refrigerator magnet or any other small, strong magnet.
  2. Hold the nickel securely with one hand so it doesn’t move.
  3. Bring the magnet close to the surface of the nickel without touching it. A gap of 5-10 mm is ideal.
  4. See if the magnet attracts the nickel and makes it move towards it. If the nickel jumps or sticks to the magnet, then it is a normal nickel-containing alloy. But if the magnet does not attract it at all, then the nickel is likely solid silver.

This magnet test works because of the process of magnetization. Normal coinage nickels contain 75% copper and 25% nickel, while silver nickels contain 35% silver, 56% copper, and 9% manganese. Nickel and copper are ferromagnetic metals, meaning they are strongly attracted to magnets.

On the other hand, silver is diamagnetic. So, when exposed to a magnetic field, it will be slightly repelled instead of attracted.

Why The Magnet Test Works

Here are some key reasons why this simple fridge magnet test can detect real silver nickels:

  • Silver has the highest thermal and electrical conductivity of all metals. This also makes it repel magnetic fields.
  • The copper alloy in silver nickels is an insufficient amount to trigger any magnetization.
  • Normal nickel coins contain enough ferromagnetic nickel and copper to be visibly attracted to magnets.

Other Metal Tests for Silver Coins

While the magnet test works for most cases, additional tests can further validate if you have a real silver nickel:

  • Ping test – Silver coins have a distinct high-pitched ‘ring’, while fake coins sound dull.
  • Ice test – Real silver feels cooler to the touch than base metals.
  • Dimension test – Fake coins may have incorrect or inconsistent dimensions.
  • Visual test – Look for details like the mint mark, ridges on the borders, and quality of the engravings.

So before you get too excited about that old nickel you found, try these simple at-home tests first to confirm if you have a silver treasure or just a normal coin!

Try an Acid Test with Caution

An acid test is one method that can help determine if a nickel is made from silver. However, it requires using potentially dangerous chemicals, so caution is advised.

How an Acid Test Works

An acid test takes advantage of the different reactions that silver and other metals have when exposed to acid.

  • Silver does not react with acids and will retain its original surface appearance.
  • Many other metals, like nickel, undergo a chemical reaction that causes pitting, discoloration, or other visible changes on the surface.

Thus, if you put a drop of nitric acid on a nickel and it shows signs of corrosion, you know it does not contain silver. If there is no reaction, it may be a silver nickel.

Dangers and Safety Tips

While an acid test can identify silver content, acids like nitric acid are highly corrosive and dangerous chemicals that require safe handling.

  • Wear gloves and eye protection when handling acids.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing vapors.
  • Have a neutralizing agent like baking soda on hand.
  • Dispose of acids properly according to your local hazardous waste guidelines.

Consider leaving acid testing to professional jewelers or assay offices. Improper use of acids can lead to skin burns, eye injuries, respiratory irritation, and other harm.

Other Testing Options

If you want to avoid using dangerous chemicals, there are safer ways to test whether a nickel is silver:

  • Use a magnet – Silver is non-magnetic, while nickel is magnetic.
  • Examine with a magnifying glass – Silver has a lighter, more reflective appearance than nickel.
  • Compare weight/dimensions – Silver is heavier and thicker than nickel.
  • Take it to a professional – Jewelers have electronic devices and advanced methods to test silver content.

While not as definitive, these methods can provide good indications without putting yourself at risk of chemical burns from acids.

How To Tell If A Nickel Is Silver – Conclusion

Identifying silver nickels among regular nickels takes some coin-collecting know-how, but you can learn to spot them reliably. Focus on key dates between 1942 and 1945, look for a mint mark on the reverse, and perform tests like weighing, visual inspection, magnetism, and acid testing.

By following the steps in this guide, you’ll be able to discover if you have a rare silver wartime nickel or not. With practice assessing nickels, you can easily pick out silver ones from large batches of coins.

Similar Posts