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Wooden Nickel Coin Value Checker: How Much is it Worth Today?

Moneymagpie Team 1st Jun 2023 No Comments

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Coin collectors always gravitate towards shiny metal coins with portraits of the most honourable historical figures and great monetary value. But in a world of coins that we use for spare change and beefing up our collections, there are vintage, collectible coins that aren’t made of metal too.

While many of us here at Coin Value Checker prefer coins made at U.S. Mints, there are also historic, charming, novelty coins made by the people. These have been known in history as wooden nickels.

But what are wooden nickels? Are they fake money? Do they hold any value? Today, we will tell you all about this type of coin’s rich American history, quirks, and the wooden nickel coin value today.

    What are Wooden Nickels?

    Wooden nickels are a type of scrip, or a substitute for legal tender. But don’t worry, this is not fake money. Instead, wooden nickels are novel pieces of wood you carry that entitles you to get money in return once you turn it in.

    During the Great Depression in the 1930s, America minted fewer nickel coins. This is in part due to the decline of the economy, but it could also have been because of the low reserves of nickel at the time.

    But money makes the world go ‘round. Without money circulating in the public, the economy of the United States would become worse. So, banks took it upon themselves to create “money” printed on thin, wooden planchets to help revive the economy and make it stable again.

    The Citizen’s Bank of Tenino created the original wooden nickels in the 1930s. It would be given to the people of Tenino, Washington, who could then redeem it for five cents at the Chamber of Commerce. This scheme was essential to promoting trade at a time when the economy was dying.

    To avoid inflation, these wooden nickels had an expiration date printed on them. It also encouraged people to get money and spend it right away, which was great for the failing economy. Although it never became legal tender, wooden nickels were the hope of the country in the 1930s, You can check the it’s value today with Coin Value Checker.

    Of course, when the economy started to thrive again, more nickel coins were struck at the Mints. Eventually, there was no more need for wooden nickels. These wooden nickels would just become a novelty from decades past.

    Interestingly, the Old Tenino Depot Museum continues to print the wooden money it was famous for nearly a century ago. Learn more about it by watching this cool clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-e8urZcweg

    Other Types of Wooden Nickels

    After the Great Depression, Americans continued the newfound culture of using wooden nickels to get money. However, it was no longer used as a substitute for legal tender. Instead, it was a charming novelty item that created a buzz about a promo or event.

    Here are three unique ways wooden nickels were used after the 1930s:

    Advertising or Promotional Nickels

    Some businesses from decades ago used wooden nickels as discount vouchers or for patrons to claim free stuff. They would present it to a diner or shop and would receive the promo written on the nickel. It was an ode to how our ancestors used wooden nickels to thrive.

    Commemorative Nickels at Celebrations

    Towns celebrating big milestones would also use wooden nickels as commemorative coins. But instead of just keeping the coin, people from the town could turn it in for five cents, just like in old times.

    It was a great way to celebrate how much their town had developed over the years while still staying true to their American roots. Some of these coins are sold in lots today.

    Souvenir Nickels for Big Events

    Lastly, we have souvenir wooden nickels. These nickels aren’t usually traded in for cash. Instead, they’re little trinkets you can keep after visiting a specific museum or tourist attraction.

    They don’t have money tied to their value, but because they’re a vintage novelty, they can still be sold for a couple of dollars today.

    Wooden Nickels Can’t Get You Money Now

    Because wooden nickels were never legitimate legal tender, they never had any lasting value. Today, no amount of money is tied to them.

    Back in the day, when the concept of wooden nickels as replacement money started to die out, America plastered ads all over the country that said a variation of “Don’t take the wooden nickels!”

    It was a reminder not to be scammed by taking wooden nickels from establishments since they have basically zero intrinsic value.

    This phrase was a play on an old 1800s proverb not to accept wooden items. Back then, peddlers would mix wooden shavings with some types of food to extend their yield and sell more products to make money.

    Check out how wooden nickels from the 1930s used to look like in this YouTube Short, which also has the haunting reminder not to take those wooden nickels: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/_Ppfj5CMswk

    Today, the phrase “don’t take any wooden nickels” is an idiomatic expression to be careful about what you get from others, because it might not help benefit in the end.

    Examples of Wooden Nickels and Their Modern-Day Value

    While wooden nickels have no monetary value today like they used to, you can still sell them for a significant amount. Some vintage and novelty item collectors might be ramping up their wooden nickel collection, which pulls up the price of these “coins” even today.

    Of course, not every wooden nickel is valuable today. Most of them will be worth a couple of dollars only. Meanwhile, others can go as high up as hundreds of dollars, depending on their historical and cultural significance.

    Here are six examples of vintage wooden nickels up for sale now and how much their value is today:

    1.   1932 One Wooden Nickel from Tenino, WA

    First, we have money from the famed town of Tenino, Washington. Because this was the town that made wooden nickels famous during the Great Depression, wooden nickels originating from there are way more valuable than others. It’s currently being sold for a whopping $275.

    This wooden nickel was stamped on a rectangular “banknote,” but it was still called a nickel because you had to turn it into the Chamber of Commerce to get five cents in return. It was printed in March of 1932 and signed by one of the chamber’s trustees.

    Around the edges of this wooden nickel, it says “Confidence is essential if money is to circulate,” as well as “When money flows freely prosperity will return.”

    2.   1933 Chicago World Fair Wooden Nickel

    Wooden nickels were also famously used as a souvenir during the World Fair in Chicago in 1933. Around the coin, it says “A century of progress” and “wooden nickel.” At the very center, there is a happy Native American chief smiling. The dates 1833-1933 are written across the coin.

    This coin is in near-mint condition and is currently being sold for $55.

    3.   Sambo’s Free Coffee Wooden Nickel

    Sambo’s, a popular coffee shop back in the 1970s with roots in California, used wooden nickels to promote their restaurant. Bearers of their wooden nickel would get a free coffee, which was worth 10 cents at the time. This is an example of an advertising or promotional wooden nickel.

    These wooden nickels can cost a few dollars today, even if you can’t claim them at Sambo’s (the company shut down decades ago). One of these with a stamp from Grand Forks, North Dakota is valued at $8 each.

    4.   1958 Johnstown, NY Bicentennial Wooden Nickel

    When Johnstown, New York celebrated their town’s bicentennial from August 17-23 in 1958, they gave out wooden nickels as prizes. On these wooden coins, you can see an expiration date. People could claim their five cents until the end of that month only.

    A wooden nickel from this event is valued today by sellers for around $64.

    5.   1949 Sapulpa, OK Golden Jubilee Wooden Nickel Set

    Here are more examples of wooden nickels in the form of rectangular “notes.” During the Sapulpa, Oklahoma Golden Jubilee in 1949, people were given wooden nickels to trade in for cash. The wooden pieces entitled you to either one, two, or five nickels! A set of these is worth $21.

    On the wooden planks, it says “Sapulpa’s Golden Jubilee” and the dates of the event, marked July 3 through 10th. It also has a charming symbol of the event on the right side.

    6.   1964 Perryopolis, PA Sesquicentennial Wooden Nickel

    Lastly, we have this wooden nickel from 1964, which was given out as a souvenir during the sesquicentennial celebration of Perryopolis, Pennsylvania. The town celebrated its 150th year from July 4-12 of that year. This coin is being sold for almost $10 apiece.

    Final Thoughts: Is a Wooden Nickel Collection Valuable?

    Wooden nickels make for an excellent collection if you love American history and want to preserve some of its charming money culture from the 1930s and beyond. Commemorative and legal tender substitute wooden nickels alike make for an awesome, intriguing collection.

    However, it’s important to always remember that these nickels do not have intrinsic value, like real coins. The most popular types of wooden nickels, like those made in Tenino, WA, might be worth hundreds of dollars, but not every wooden nickel will get you that amount.

    Whether you’re a lover of wooden nickels or have never heard of them before, we hope you’ve learned a lot about them and their value in this guide.

    Disclaimer: MoneyMagpie is not a licensed financial advisor and therefore information found here including opinions, commentary, suggestions or strategies are for informational, entertainment or educational purposes only. This should not be considered as financial advice. Anyone thinking of investing should conduct their own due diligence.

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    Jasmine Birtles

    Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

    Jasmine Birtles

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