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1937-D three-legged Buffalo stays popular

The loss of a limb on the 1937-D Buffalo nickel reverse probably resulted from too much regrinding of a die in order to remove clash marks.

Some coins just seem to catch everyone by surprise and create a special demand because they are different. That is certainly the case with the 1937-D Buffalo nickel, since the animal on the reverse has only three legs.

There are a lot of things to consider in a discussion of this coin. The first question, obviously, is how did the buffalo wind up missing a limb? In all probability, this happened from too much regrinding of a die in order to remove clash marks.

Every so often, something gets into the hopper, goes to the feeder, and jams the mechanism so that planchets don’t reach the dies. It’s not as serious as foam damaging a space shuttle heat shield, but it means the dies bang against each other, leaving traces of their design where they should not be.

Normally, the solution is to remove the foreign object and throw out the dies. That, however, takes time and costs money. If you want a quick and cheap fix, you take something like an emery stick and grind off the clash marks. But if you are not careful, parts of the design vanish. In addition, other parts of the design are weakened.

If this isn’t noticed immediately, a bad situation has been made worse. But often no one noticed. By the time an error was discovered decades later, anyone involved was long gone.

By the turn of the century, when there were overdates such as those seen on Buffalo nickels, errors might be discovered in 20 rather than 100 years. But in the case of the 1937-D nickel, discovery that the buffalo was missing a body part took only a short time. That’s bad if you were the one who created the error but good if you happen to be a collector and want a nice example of an unusual coin.

There was a historic problem with Buffalo nickels: if they circulated too long, they lost their dates and other details as well. If you wanted nice examples, you had to get them early. Unfortunately, relatively few people saved Buffalo nickels.

That was changing by 1937, however. Collector numbers had grown; there were folders to house collections on the horizon; and dealers were saving more new issues due to the greater demand. Even if an error was discovered a few years after a coin was issued, there was a chance there would be a supply of original rolls or other quantities where the error might be found, possibly in a top grade.

With a mintage of 17,826,000, there was suddenly a reason to check each and every 1937-D Buffalo nickel. Circulated examples kept popping up for years as well. And even though examples were being found, demand kept prices rising.

Today, a 1937-D with a three-legged buffalo lists for $425 in G-4 condition, $2,000 in MS-60, and $29,000 in MS-65. That is quite a difference from the regular 1937-D, which is just $70 in MS-65.

These prices are interesting, especially in light of the grading service totals. In fairness, a 1937-D Buffalo nickel with three legs is a coin you want authenticated and graded in any condition, and that means more coins than normal are seen, since lower-grade examples are sent in.

The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports a total of 6,676 examples seen. Of that number, 1,732 were called Mint State, but only 82 were MS-65 or better. The Professional Coin Grading Service has seen a total of 8,643 examples, with nearly 1,113 being called Mint State. Just 70 were MS-65 or better.

Clearly there are numbers, even unexpected numbers, of the 1937-D three-legged Buffalo nickel. But given its popularity, there are never enough to go around. As a result, it continues rising in price, making it one of a very small group of errors to have a special popularity.


This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.


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