This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Consider the 1937 Buffalo nickel’s price of $69 in MS-65. It’s certainly a low price for a nice coin and very few other Buffalo nickels even come close. It has to raise the question as to precisely what happened with the 1937 to make it so available in top grades.
The first place to look for an answer is the most obvious one as the 1937 had a mintage of 79,485,769. There is no doubt that is a large mintage, and it almost certainly would play a role in making the 1937 more available in MS-65 and MS-60, where it is just $14.50.
A large mintage is a starting point, but there are other Buffalo nickels with large mintages as well. The 1936 has a huge mintage of more 119 million and is at $105 in MS-65. Then there is the 1937, produced a year later a with a mintage of 79,485,769, that lists for $69 in MS-65.
The situation seems odd to have two coins a year apart in their mintage with the significantly higher date being more expensive. The grading services may give some clue. At the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, the latest totals in MS-65 show the 1936 at 629 appearances and the 1937 at 1,405. It’s the same in MS-66, where the 1936 has been seen 734 times while the 1937 is at 3,553.
The situation at the Professional Coin Grading Service is similar with the 1936 in MS-65 having been graded 1,391 times, but the 1937 is at 3,939. In MS-66 the 1936 had been seen 735 times, but the 1937 is at 2,267.
The grading service totals must not, however, be taken too seriously for a very simple reason: both the 1936 and 1937 are so inexpensive that it is unlikely that most of the known examples will have been sent in for grading. In fact, I can remember a dealer at Long Beach years ago when prices were lower having some MS-65 Buffalo nickels primarily of these two dates. His price was so low that, as he pointed out with some truth, the coin was free; you were simply paying for the grading. That is the sort of position you can be in. Unless a 1936 or 1937 is really an exceptional coin, the cost of the grading may be close to the value of the coin itself. Moreover, if you do send a coin in and it comes back with a lower grade than you expect, you can suddenly have a coin literally worth less than the cost to have it graded. Under the circumstances, a lot of examples of the 1936 and 1937 as well as a number of other dates simply do not get graded, so the totals cannot be seen as the last word in availability.
However, the numbers do tell a story that might well have been a result of the explosive growth in collecting at the time as the first holders for collections were introduced. That encouraged saving of greater numbers and that may well be part of the reason why we see the 1937 at such low prices today. Whatever the reason, for someone wanting a nice coin at a low price the 1937 Buffalo nickel is a good choice.