Many people have a Buffalo Nickel with no date on it and wonder if they could reveal the year and how much it is worth. You may see a lot of websites that Buffalo nickel key dates for “S” and “D” marks. But without the year, how do you determine how much the coin is worth?
Why Did The Date Wear Off?
The dates on many Buffalo Nickels have worn off because the date was on a raised portion of the design, and these nickels circulated very heavily for many decades. If the date is not present on the coin, the coin will not carry a numismatic premium.
A coin collector must know the date to determine its value and see if it is a rare nickel or not. Un-dated Buffalo nickels are worth about ten cents each, but only because people use them for jewelry, shirt buttons, and a variety of other uses. All other types of nickels without dates are only worth face value.
The first Buffalo Nickels produced by the United States Mint in 1913 featured the denomination of FIVE CENTS on a raised mound of dirt below the buffalo on the reverse of the coin. This design flaw caused the denomination to go off the coin prematurely.
Approximately halfway through 1913, James Earl Fraser modified his design to the denomination below the level of the coin’s rim. This design change protected the lettering from wearing off the con. Additionally, the mint mark is also located in this area and is protected from the harsh environment of circulating coinage.
What Does The “F” Mean?
The letter “F” you see on the “heads” side under the place where the date is located, stands for the designer’s last name, James Earl Fraser. All Buffalo nickels have the designer’s initials on them regardless of the mint facility where it was manufactured. If your coin has a mint mark, it will be under the buffalo on the reverse (“tails”) side of the coin, below the words FIVE CENTS. If the Philadelphia mint produced the coin, there is no mintmark.
The letter “D” indicates the Denver mint facility, and “S” stands for San Francisco. Some are susceptible to unscrupulous people trying to add a mint mark to a common date coin to increase its value. Before spending big dollars on a rare Buffalo nickel, make sure a reputable coin dealer authenticates it.
Recovering The Date
Sometimes it is possible to recover the date on a dateless Buffalo nickel by putting a drop of ferric chloride on the spot where the date used to be. This chemical called a “date restorer” is sold under the trade name “Nic-A-Date.” Although it will cause the date to reappear on a dateless Buffalo Nickel, ferric chloride leaves a blotchy, rough, acid spot of damage on the coin that ruins the appearance of the nickel.
Also, the date will fade again over time, and each time you use the chemical, it brings back less and less of the date, and it will leave an increasingly ugly acid mark. Professional numismatists will not trust a date that has been restored with ferric chloride.
An unscrupulous person can create the illusion of a rare date Buffalo nickel by manipulating the metal the ferric chloride is applied. Therefore, be wary of any coin purchase that is based on a restored date. Especially if it is an extremely rare error or key date coins.
Never use chemicals on the surface of your nickels to restore partial dates because partial-date Buffalo Nickels are worth more than totally dateless nickels. Depending on which digits are the nickel can be worth anywhere from 50 cents (if the part showing is the first 2 or 3 digits) to about 20% of market value if the last two or three digits are readable.
How It’s Identifiable Without The Date
Originally the reverse side of the Buffalo nickel had the denomination of “FIVE CENTS” displayed on a mound of dirt beneath the Buffalo. As these nickels began to circulate in the first year of issue, 1913, the United States Mint noticed that the denomination was wearing away prematurely.
Approximately halfway through 1913, the design was reworked, and the mound of dirt that the buffalo is standing on was changed to have a recessed space beneath it to display the denomination of “FIVE CENTS.” This new design eliminated the problem of the date wearing away prematurely.
Buffalo Nickel Key Dates, Rarities, And Varieties
Small differences on a Buffalo (or Indian Head) nickel can make a big difference in the value of coin collecting. There are several valuable Buffalo nickel key dates and varieties that every coin collector should be aware of. Some of the differences are quite obvious, while others are minute and can only be seen with magnification. Many factors go into determining the value of a coin, and the value of Buffalo nickels is no exception.
1. 1913-S Type 2
In 1913 the U.S. Mint retired the Liberty Head nickel or “V” nickel design and started making the Buffalo nickel. It is commonly known as the Indian Head nickel. When the design first came out, the buffalo on the reverse was standing on a mound of dirt. The raised letters specifying the denomination of “FIVE CENTS” wore away prematurely.
To solve this design problem, the mint recessed the denomination so the rim and a line of dirt below the buffalo would protect the inscription of the denomination. All three mints produced both varieties of these coins, but the San Francisco issue with the “S” mint mark on the reverse is the rarest.
2. 1916/16 (Doubled Die Variety)
In 1916 a production mistake at the mint yielded a dramatic doubled die on the obverse of the coin. Look for doubling in the last three digits of the date. You will notice that the duplicate digits are a little to the right and lower than the more pronounced date of 1916. This die-variety is the most sought-after of all the Buffalo nickel varieties. It is very valuable in circulated grades and very rare in uncirculated grades.
Additionally, this rare coin can sell for thousands of dollars even in a well-worn condition such as G-4. In uncirculated grades, the price can exceed $100,000. Therefore, before buying this coin make sure it is certified as genuine and graded by a professional from a third-party grading company.
3. 1918-D 8 Over 7 (Doubled Die Variety)
At the Denver mint facility in 1918, another production mistake yielded a spectacular doubled die variety on the obverse. Although this variety is not as pronounced as the 1916 variety, it is still very obvious on the last digit of the date.
Look carefully for underlying “7” under the last digit “8” in the date. Numismatic experts believe that the mint produced over 100,000 of these coins. A majority of them circulated before collectors could save them for their coin collections. Therefore, the uncirculated specimens are extremely rare.
This is another example of an extremely rare mint error. In an extremely well-worn condition, the value of this coin is approaching $1,000. In uncirculated grades, the value can exceed $50,000. Therefore make sure this coin is also certified and graded by a numismatic expert from a third-party grading company.
The United States Mint only produced Buffalo nickels at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mint facilities in 1921. Philadelphia produced a majority of the specimens with a mintage of over ten million coins while San Francisco only produced about 1,500,000 coins.
This 7-to-1 ratio makes the San Francisco coin the rare of the two issues. Circulated specimens are easy to find, but you will pay a premium price for one of them. Uncirculated coins are even rare and will cost $1,000 and up.
Slightly more affordable than the 1921-S issue is the 1924 San Francisco minted Buffalo nickel. Once again the Philadelphia mint produced a majority of the coins with a mintage that exceeded 21 million coins while Denver only produced slightly more than 5 million coins.
The San Francisco mint made slightly less than 1.5 million coins. This 14-to-1 ratio makes this coin scarce and all grades. Rare in uncirculated grades has driven the value of these coins to well over $2,000.
In 1926, production at the San Francisco mint facility trailed far behind both the Philadelphia and Denver production numbers. Once again the Philadelphia mint produced a majority of the coins that year with a mintage of almost 45 million coins and Denver producing almost 6 million coins.
San Francisco lagged behind with only 970,000 coins. This low mintage number at San Francisco yields a high value for this scarce coin.
7. 1935 Doubled Die Reverse
The United States Mint in Philadelphia produced this die variety when a mistake was made during the manufacturing process of the coin dies. This variety is recognized by strong doubling on the inscriptions FIVE CENTS, and E PLURIBUS UNUM.
Additional doubling is evident on the bison’s eye, horn, and mane. This doubling is very strong and is cataloged as a variety FS-05-1935-801. Do not mistake this coin for the weaker doubling as found on variety FS-05-1935-803.
8. 1937-D Three-Legged Buffalo
In 1937, a production worker at the Denver mint facility tried to repair a damaged reverse die only to make things worse. There was a die clash in the lower-left corner of the die by the buffalo’s right leg. As he used a tool to remove the indentation on the die, he removed so much metal that the detail from the buffalo’s front leg was lost.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous people will take a 1937-D Buffalo nickel with all four legs and remove the front leg. Expert numismatists can tell if a coin has been altered. Therefore, make sure you acquire a certified specimen or purchase one from a reputable coin dealer.
Buffalo Nickel (1913-1938) Values And History
The Buffalo nickel was the United States five-cent coin minted from 1913 to 1938. Its name comes from the buffalo (i.e. American bison) pictured on the reverse design. Buffalo nickels are sometimes known as Indian Head nickels due to the composite portrait of an American Indian chief found on the coin’s obverse.
This iconic design also appears on modern gold bullion coins called American Gold Buffalos. The Gold Buffalo has been issued by the U.S. Mint each year since 2006. Thanks to their recognizable design, Gold Buffalo coins remain popular with both collectors and investors. This is no doubt inspired by the history and symbolism of the Buffalo nickel. Meanwhile, the much more affordable five-cent nickels are among the most avidly collected US coin.
A Note About Valuable Coins
The most valuable coins in a given series are the key dates and varieties. These are the most challenging coins to obtain regardless of their grade. A “key date” is usually a coin with a low mintage. Less of them were made in a particular year. This is why collectors will pay more for key date coins with coin values.
Varieties are subsets of a given year’s issuance of a coin. Something special or out-of-place, such as an error, makes a variety stand out from the rest of the coins produced in that year. Much like key dates, varieties will have lower production numbers than their common counterparts.
Buffalo Nickel Series Highlights
Buffalo nickels were struck from 1913 through 1938. They are among the most popular 20th-century coins around. The coin depicts a Native American chief on the obverse and an American bison (or “buffalo”) on the reverse. This five-cent coin is beloved for its classic Old West imagery. Many older numismatists can still recall when Buffaloes made regular appearances in circulation.
These beautiful nickels are widely collected by hobbyists of all ages. In addition to its rugged design by James Earle Fraser, one of the many reasons the Buffalo nickel series has enjoyed timeless appeal is its numerous key dates, semi-keys, and varieties. Buffalo nickels offer collectors limitless opportunities for numismatic challenges both great and small. Hobbyists of all financial means can assemble a nice set of these classic coins.
Most Buffalo nickels are quite common, and thus they are relatively affordable. Yet there are several rarer pieces that are very valuable. But how much is a Buffalo nickel worth? Buffalo nickels vary widely in price, from as little as 20 or 30 cents for pieces on which the date has been completely obliterated through heavy wear to thousands of dollars for rarities in Gem Uncirculated condition.
Tips For Collecting Buffalo Nickels
The Buffalo nickel series is expansive, to say the least. It encompasses 71 regular-issue nickels along with major varieties and seven proofs. In circulated condition, only a handful of Buffalo nickels are truly scarce and exorbitantly expensive. Conversely, the majority of dates are quite pricey in uncirculated condition, particularly in grades of MS-64 or MS-65 or better. There are many ways that one can build a nice collection of Buffalo nickels.
You can surely assemble an entire date-and-mintmark set of Buffalo nickels. Unfortunately, this is often cost-prohibitive for many hobbyists, even if they’re pursuing “just” the circulated pieces. Let’s examine a few affordable alternatives to building an entire set of Buffalo nickels:
Build a short set. Many collectors narrow down their Buffalo nickel sets to only the most common dates. This includes coins struck between 1934 through 1938. This significantly reduces the number of coins necessary to complete a set. Oftentimes those who pursue this short set will prefer quality over quantity. That means only going after higher-grade examples.
Assemble a year set. A collector may seek one example from each year, regardless of the mintmark. This is in lieu of chasing after each date-and-mintmark combination. You can build a set of Buffalo nickels spanning the entire series run without breaking the bank. A year set can help a collector avoid virtually all of the expensive semi-key and key dates.
Focus on only regular-issue business strike coins (not varieties). Finishing a more challenging set complete with varieties and proofs gets very costly. Collectors may find a happy medium by building a regular-issue run of business strikes. This would still be a pretty expensive endeavor! But such a set lacks the super-expensive varieties such as the 1916 doubled die and 1937 3-legged nickels.
Most Buffalo nickels only really become collectible when the date is at least partially visible. Basically, that translates into an example grading About Good-3 to Good-4. Many hobbyists prefer that the bison exhibits a full horn. This is usually seen at a grade of Very Fine-20 or higher.
Regardless of the coin’s grade, the nicer the piece, the stronger chance it improves in value down the line. Besides, high-quality coins are simply more desirable than subpar pieces. Numismatists always find more satisfaction with coins boasting high-quality surfaces and overall excellent eye appeal.
Like the modern Gold Buffalo, the Indian Head nickel has inspired many fantastic and artistic items on today’s bullion market. In addition to a one-time commemorative Silver Buffalo coin issued by the U.S. Mint in 2001, private refineries across the United States regularly make Silver Buffalo rounds.