How do I know if my Buffalo nickel is valuable? If you recently came into possession of a classic buffalo nickel, you may be wondering if you stumbled upon a valuable collector’s item or just some old pocket change. With hundreds of millions of buffalo nickels minted, most have little monetary value above their face value of 5 cents.
But some rare dates, mint marks, and condition varieties can make your buffalo nickel worth a substantial stack of cash. So grab that coin jar off your dresser and let’s identify what details make a buffalo nickel valuable.
Study the Date and Mint Mark
Key Date Buffalos Fetch Big Bucks
When collecting Buffalo nickels, pay close attention to the date, as certain years are more valuable and scarce. Specifically, the 1913-S, 1914-D, 1915-S, 1917-D, 1917-S, 1918/7-D, 1926-S, 1931-S, and 1937-D dates are considered “key dates” that can be worth thousands of dollars even in worn condition.
For example, a worn 1913-S Buffalo nickel recently sold for over $750 at auction. And a 1918/7-D variety, with a prominent overdate, fetched over $7,000 in Extremely Fine condition. So carefully checking Buffalo nickel dates can pay off!
Check That Mint Mark
When examining your Buffalo nickels, you’ll also want to look for a mint mark, indicating which US mint the coin was struck at. Mint marks can be found on the reverse, below the denomination near the rim.
The Philadelphia Mint did not use a mint mark, so no letter indicates a Philadelphia issue. The San Francisco mint-marked coins with an S, while the Denver mint used a D. Finding a scarce date paired with the S or D mint mark multiplies the value significantly.
For example, a 1937-D Buffalo in choice condition can fetch over $500.
Finding Proofs and 3 Legged Varieties
Other varieties worth mentioning are proof versions, with mirrored surfaces, produced for coin collectors in very limited numbers. Additionally, a small number of 1937 Buffalo nickels display only 3 legs on the bison, due to an engraved die gouge, making them treasured rarities today.
So when checking your Buffalo nickels, scrutinize the dates, mint marks, surfaces, and designs closely. Your drawer change could contain a surprisingly valuable classic American coin!
Grade the Condition
When grading a circulated Buffalo nickel, collectors and professional coin grading services examine the amount of wear and tear on the coin’s surface and edges. Higher grades indicate a nickel with less circulation damage.
The Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) uses a 70-point numeric scale, ranging from 1 through 70, with 70 representing a perfect coin. A nickel graded in the 60-63 range would be considered uncirculated with minimal imperfections.
By comparison, a heavily worn Buffalo nickel might grade in the 1-3 range.
One grading factor is the level of detail remaining of the Native American portrait on the obverse (front) side of the nickel. On high-grade Buffalo nickels, the hair strands, feather headdress details, and facial features will be visible and sharply defined.
In lower-grade examples, these areas will show noticeable wear and be indistinct.
The depth and completeness of the lines representing the bison’s head, and horn, and the texture of the fur on the reverse side are also closely inspected. Well-struck design elements indicate better preservation and grade.
Buffalo nickels graded MS-60 through MS-70 fall in the Mint State (uncirculated) category. At this level, the coins exhibit no wear and only minor bag marks or imperfections from handling or storage. An MS-65 coin displays clear design details and minimal contact marks, with nice eye appeal.
MS-70 represents perfection, which is rarely seen on older Buffalo nickels. A 1921-S key date nickel certified MS-66 could sell for $30,000-50,000 at auction.
Factors weighed in uncirculated Buffalo nickel grades include the coin’s remaining luster, surface marks, coloration, strike sharpness, and eye appeal. A beautifully toned rainbow-colored example will likely receive a higher Mint State grade than a similar coin with unappealing dark spots or discoloration.
Proper Storage Protects Value
Storing Buffalo nickels in protective holders helps safeguard their condition and value over time. The two most common options are rigid plastic coin slabs from grading companies like NGC and paper 2×2 cardboard holders.
Hard plastic holders provide better protection and have the advantage of an official certification number and grade from the grading service. But paper 2×2’s allow examining the nickel’s surfaces more closely.
For bulk storage, many collectors use plastic tubes that hold 20 or more nickels. Avoid touching the coins directly whenever possible, as skin oils and dirt can detract from a nice nickel’s grade. Use cotton gloves or hold Buffalo nickels by the edges to reduce handling marks.
Finally, keep your coin collection in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to best preserve the metals.
Authentication Builds Value and Trust
Verifying the authenticity and grade of buffalo nickels is crucial for collectors who want to build value in their collections. Professional authentication and grading lend credibility and help avoid costly forgeries or alterations.
Beware of Fakes and Forgeries
With valuable collectibles like buffalo nickels, fakes, and forgeries abound. Unscrupulous sellers may try passing off altered or counterfeit coins to unwitting buyers. Always authenticate any questionable nickels, as forgeries are getting harder to spot with modern technologies.
Professional Grading Companies
Leading professional grading services like PCGS, NGC, and ANACS evaluate and certify buffalo nickels. Their certification numbers, detailed descriptions, and quality grades backed by experts provide assurance and make coins easier to buy/sell.
Grading involves minute analysis under magnification to judge each coin’s level of preservation, eye appeal, surface marks, luster, etc. A mint state or proof buffalo nickel-graded MS67 or PR68, even with slight imperfections, will be valued higher than a lower-grade uncirculated coin.
Collectors Crave Certainty
Collectors want confidence in their purchases. As PCGS co-founder David Hall stated: “Collectors and dealers have always wanted ‘sight-unseen’ purchasing confidence.” Third-party grading eliminated “hand-waving dealer claims about the condition” and gave buyers authoritative assessments.
Research Recent Sale Prices
When determining if your Buffalo nickel has collectible value, one of the most important things to research is the recent sale prices for comparable coins. Here are some tips on researching Buffalo nickel values:
Check eBay Completed Listings
eBay can provide excellent insight into real-world sales data. Focus specifically on the “completed listings” under the advanced search function. This shows Buffalo nickels that have sold recently, along with the final sale price.
Review listings of coins in similar years, mint marks, and grades to get a sense of current market values.
Use Online Price Guides
Well-known coin prices guides like the Red Book and PCGS Price Guide aggregate dealer listings and auction data to estimate values. These can serve as a benchmark, but may not always reflect the most recent sales. Check the date on the guide to ensure it captures the current market.
Review Heritage Auction Archives
Heritage Auctions is one of the largest coin auction houses. Browse their archive of past sales. Their records go back decades and can show price trends over time. Focus on Buffalo nickels graded and described similarly to yours.
Check Published Price Reports
Print publications like Coin Values, Numismatic News, and trade journals publish reports on major coin auctions and market activity. These can provide additional data points to help estimate a Buffalo nickel’s worth.
Consult Reputable Dealers
Well-established coin dealers closely follow the market and may provide free assessments of your Buffalo nickel’s value. They can also share insights into recent sales and factors impacting prices. This real-world expertise is invaluable.
By consulting multiple pricing sources, checking databases of actual sales, and connecting with knowledgeable numismatic professionals, you can accurately gauge your old Buffalo nickel’s current market value and rarity.
Find a Reputable Buyer When Selling
When it’s time to sell your valuable Buffalo nickel, finding a reputable buyer is crucial. An ethical, knowledgeable buyer will properly assess your coin and make a fair offer based on its grade, scarcity, demand, and the current precious metals market.
Avoid Selling to Unknown Buyers
Steer clear of random buyers on classified ads or auction sites. These buyers likely lack credentials or specialist knowledge for accurately grading and pricing rare coins. Their offers may drastically undercut your coin’s value.
Research Dealers’ Reputations Thoroughly
Instead, research established coin dealers with strong industry reputations. Check dealer ratings on the Better Business Bureau and Professional Numismatists Guild. Read multiple online reviews detailing customers’ experiences.
This helps avoid dealing with unscrupulous buyers known for undervaluing coins or not paying sellers.
Verify the Buyer’s Credentials
Choose a buyer who employs professional graders certified by the American Numismatic Association or Professional Currency Dealers Association. Ask about the buyer’s years in business, membership in major coin organizations, and if they guarantee fair assessments. This provides greater confidence they’ll treat you ethically.
|Positive Signs of a Reputable Buyer
|Warning Signs of an Untrustworthy Buyer
|– Strong industry reputation for 30+ years
|– Little online presence or no reputation
|– High BBB rating with few complaints
|– Many online complaints about undervaluing coins
|– Employs PCGS or NGC certified graders
|– Claims they’ll pay extremely high prices
|– Offers free verbal appraisals
|– Pushy sales tactics pressuring quick decisions
Get Multiple Offers Before Selling
Ultimately, collecting multiple offers from leading buyers safeguards against leaving money on the table. Even tiny Buffalo nickel details like having clearer dates or sharper horns substantially boost potential value. Allowing an experienced grader to carefully inspect your coin almost always results in the fairest payout.
Selling a valuable classic American coin like the Buffalo nickel takes patience and care. But entrusting your unique piece of history to a credible buyer with numismatic expertise levels the playing field. This way, you can rest assured knowing you’ll receive every dollar it deserves.
How Do I Know If My Buffalo Nickel Is Valuable – Conclusion
With billions of common date buffalo nickels out there, the odds are stacked against finding an extremely valuable specimen in circulation. But a combination of scarce dates, condition rarities, authentication, and the coin collector market’s whims can translate an old semi-key date buffalo nickel into a big-time payday.
By carefully examining your coin’s date, mint mark, condition, certification, and recent sales, you’ll unlock the mystery of what your buffalo nickel is worth.