Wooden Nickels Value: An Expert Collector‘s Guide

Wooden nickels may not jingle in your pocket like their metal counterparts, but don‘t let that fool you – these humble little wooden discs can be worth some serious coin to collectors. As a lifelong numismatist and exonumia expert, I‘ve seen wooden nickels sell for prices that would make even a buffalo nickel blush.

Whether you‘re a seasoned collector or just starting to get wood for hoarding wooden money, this guide will help you understand what makes one wooden nickel more valuable than another and how to build a collection you can be proud of. We‘ll delve into the rich history behind these fascinating artifacts, explore the key factors that influence their value, and share insider tips for collecting wooden nickels like a pro.

But before we start putting prices on round pieces of wood, let‘s take a step back and appreciate where the whole idea of wooden nickels came from in the first place.

The Origins of Wooden Nickels

It was the height of the Great Depression in 1931 when the small lumber town of Blaine, Washington found itself in a bind. With banks failing left and right, the public had lost faith in paper money and hoarded every coin they could get their hands on. Local merchants were struggling to make change as the flow of currency slowed to a trickle.

The town‘s enterprising Chamber of Commerce came up with a plan B: printing their own money on thin sheets of Sitka spruce wood. These round wooden tokens, issued in 25 cent and 50 cent denominations, could be exchanged for goods and services at local businesses just like regular money. It was a literal grassroots currency – or perhaps "treeroots" would be more apt.

Blaine‘s wooden coins were an instant hit, keeping commerce humming until the coin shortage eased. Word spread of the town‘s creative solution, and over the next few years, hundreds of other communities facing hard times followed suit with their own wooden money. While not technically legal tender, these Depression scrip wooden nickels were widely accepted out of necessity.

It‘s estimated that between 1931-1935, over 1,000 different types of wooden coins were issued by towns, chambers of commerce, and merchants across the country. Today, these early wooden nickels are some of the most historically significant and valuable examples for collectors.

The 1933 Chicago World‘s Fair marked another milestone moment for wooden money. The fair‘s organizers issued special commemorative wooden nickels that could be redeemed for admissions and rides. These oversized 3-inch tokens introduced the idea of wooden nickels as souvenirs, sparking a collecting craze that continues to this day.

Since then, it‘s estimated that over 15,000 different wooden nickel varieties have been issued by coin clubs, fraternal organizations, companies, military units, and countless other groups. While their heyday as an emergency form of money is long past, wooden nickels remain popular as affordable collectibles, promotional items, and mementos.

What Makes A Wooden Nickel Valuable?

So what separates a priceless wooden nickel from a mere wooden token? As with any collectible, value comes down to a combination of rarity, age, condition, and desirability. Let‘s break down each of these factors:


In the world of wooden nickels, scarcity is king. Some of the most valuable wooden nickels had extremely limited original mintages, with only a few dozen to a few hundred pieces made.

For example, one of the rarest and most sought-after wooden nickels is the 1933 octagonal 25 cent token from Tenino, Washington. Only 12 examples are known to exist, and one sold at auction in 2012 for a jaw-dropping $7,700.

Other rare Depression-era wood coins like the 1933 Elma, Washington 25 cent piece and the 1933 Blaine, Washington 50 cent coin routinely sell for $500 to $1000+ in top condition due to their scarcity and historical importance.


As a rule of thumb, older wooden nickels are worth more than newer ones. The earliest wooden nickels from the 1930s Great Depression are considered the most desirable by collectors due to their age, rarity, and historical significance.

Certain commemorative wooden nickels from major events in the mid-20th century, like the 1939-40 New York World‘s Fair and 1962 Seattle World‘s Fair, are also highly prized by collectors. By contrast, the vast majority of wooden nickels issued from the 1960s onward are very common and affordable, with many selling for just a dollar or two.


Wooden nickels are graded on a scale from "Poor" to "Mint State" based on their level of preservation. Since wood is prone to cracking, warping, insect damage, and decay over time, finding wooden nickels in pristine original condition can be quite challenging.

As with most collectibles, condition has a huge impact on a wooden nickel‘s value. Take the iconic 1933 Chicago World‘s Fair wooden commemoratives, for instance. In heavily worn or damaged condition, these large tokens sell for around $10-20. The exact same coin in mint state, however, can fetch over $100.


There‘s an undeniable subjective factor to what makes one wooden nickel more valuable than another: collector demand. Wooden nickels with stunning designs, historical connections, and pop culture themes tend to be more popular and collectible.

Certain prolific designers and manufacturers like Frank Balash, Steven Tannenbaum, and Bob Moczulski are renowned for their creative and attractive wooden nickel designs. Some collectors focus on assembling "sets" of wooden nickels from a particular maker or theme, driving up prices for key issues.

How Much Are Wooden Nickels Worth? Pricing Examples

To give you a better idea of the range of values for wooden nickels across different eras and types, I‘ve compiled a handy reference table. Keep in mind that these are average prices for wooden nickels in excellent condition – pristine examples can sell for even higher.

Wooden Nickel Type Average Value
Rare 1930s Depression Scrip (Elma, Tenino) $500 – $1000+
1933 Chicago World‘s Fair Commemorative $50 – $150
1939-40 New York World‘s Fair Commemorative $25 – $100
1962 Seattle World‘s Fair Commemorative $20 – $50
1960s-80s Coin Club and Organization Issues $2 – $10
Modern 1990s-Present Promotional Issues $1 – $5

Of course, there are always exceptions and outliers. Some exceptionally rare varieties from smaller issuers or events can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars in top condition. The key is knowing how to identify the most valuable wooden nickels – which brings us to our next section.

Collecting Wooden Nickels: Expert Tips

Navigating the wooden nickel market can be daunting for beginners. As a seasoned collector, here are my top tips for building a great collection while avoiding costly mistakes:

  • Buy from reputable dealers. Steer clear of flea markets and eBay sellers who can‘t guarantee authenticity. Stick with trusted wooden nickel dealers or fellow collectors who are members of the National Wooden Money Collectors Society (NUWO).

  • Learn to grade accurately. Knowing how to assess a wooden nickel‘s condition is critical. Avoid pieces with cracks, splits, stains, or major wear. Aim for problem-free examples in original condition when possible.

  • Focus on rarity and age. You can‘t go wrong collecting Depression-era wood money and commemoratives from significant early events like the 1933 Chicago World‘s Fair. These tend to be the most reliably valuable wooden nickels.

  • Collect what you love. Value isn‘t everything – the most rewarding collections reflect the owner‘s unique interests. Whether you love forestry-themed wooden nickels or pieces from your home state, collecting is more fulfilling when you have a personal connection to the coins.

  • Store and display properly. Wooden coins are more delicate than metal ones. Keep your collection in acid-free holders, albums, or custom display cases away from moisture, heat, and light. Never clean a wooden nickel – it can permanently damage the finish.

  • Consult NUWO resources. The National Wooden Money Collectors Society is a fantastic community for both new and veteran collectors. Their website offers a wealth of information, including a searchable database of known wooden nickel varieties and a directory of reputable dealers.

Armed with this expert advice, you‘re well on your way to becoming a winning wooden nickel collector. But watch out – once you catch the wooden coin bug, you might just find yourself pining for more!

Appreciating the Art and Soul of Wooden Nickels

Aside from their collectible value, I believe wooden nickels are worth cherishing as objects of art, history, and heart. The hand-carved dies, richly detailed ink stamps, and earthy tactility of vintage wooden coins are a refreshing contrast to today‘s coldly modern payment methods.

Moreover, each wooden nickel tells a story – whether it‘s a struggling town banding together during hard times or a World‘s Fair pushing the boundaries of progress and possibility. To hold a wooden nickel is to touch a tangible piece of the past. In our increasingly digital world, that physical connection to history feels more valuable than ever.

So the next time you‘re wondering what makes these humble hunks of tree trunk worth treasuring, remember: wooden nickels are a reminder of our roots. They symbolize the unshakeable spirit of communities that refused to be beaten by hard times and instead turned their hopes and dreams into an enduring legacy you can hold in the palm of your hand.

That, to me, is priceless – no matter what the price guide says. And if you ask me, that‘s a wooden nickel worth taking to the bank.

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