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Nickel strikes of 1920s

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Buffalo nickels are a very hard group to predict in terms of price based on mintage figures. Most of the time checking mintages works but that is not the case with Buffalo nickels, and the 1925-S is a very good example of that situation.

The 1925-S is part of a notorious but lesser known group. In fact, the group is really a creation of the past half century. Prior to the past half century there were just uncirculated Buffalo nickels. The quality of strikes was not really a big concern. Coins, including Buffalo nickels, were either uncirculated or not.

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The past half century, however, has seen grading standards refined and made more demanding. There are grading services and suddenly we have learned a great deal about an assortment of issues.

The most important discovery in terms of Buffalo nickels was, as Q. David Bowers suggests in his book A Guide Book of United States Type Coins, that “Most Type II Buffalo nickels are poorly struck in one or more areas, and for many Denver and San Francisco issues of the 1920s the striking is miserable.”

One of the dates Bowers was talking about is the 1925-S. On paper it seems like a fairly average date, but in top grades it becomes something special thanks in part to those miserable strikes.

Certainly there is little reason to expect that the 1925-S would be anything special based on its mintage of 6,256,000. Of course, there were problems with Buffalo nickels that could make a date like the 1925-S better than expected. The problems, however, were in lower grades where the 1925-S, like any other date, was subject to having its date disappear with wear. The date, like the “FIVE CENTS” on the mound of the first 1913 mound-type coins, was too high on the design. While the change was made to have the “FIVE CENTS” lowered immediately, nothing was ever done about the dates so they continued to disappear.

In fact, based on its price of $4.50 in G-4, it would appear that the 1925-S did not have a large disappearing date problem. Of course, it was strictly a matter of chance as to which dates saw more coins lose their dates, but the 1925-S does not appear to be among the leaders.

Miserable strikes and lack of supplies in Mint State, however, are a completely different matter. It is in Mint State where the 1925-S had more than its share of problems as is seen in a price of $425 in MS-60 and $28,500 in MS-65.

There was obviously something very wrong when it came to top grades, and for decades we were not really aware that there was a problem. That all changed with more refined grading standards and grading services creating population reports.

It should be no great surprise that the 1925-S is not readily available in Mint State. At the time there were very few collectors collecting Buffalo nickels by both date and mint, so there was probably not a lot of saving. What was really lacking, however, was careful inspection of the coins that were saved.

The Numismatic Guaranty Corporation has to date graded a total of 565 examples of the 1925-S. Of that total, a mere 15 were called MS-65 and none was graded higher. That is an extremely low total.
The Professional Coin Grading Service has graded a total of 632 examples of the 1925-S. The number called MS-65 is 14 with a single example graded MS-66.

Simply put, out of almost exactly 1,000 examples of the 1925-S graded at the two major grading services we have 29 called MS-65 and a single MS-66. Therein lies the reason for the $28,500 price tag, which realistically could be considered cheap as the total is certainly not adequate to meet the potential demand.

This makes the 1925-S one of the true classic cases of the poorly struck dates of the 1920s and a very tough coin today with high demand and virtually no available supply in the grades people want to buy.

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