The 1926-S Buffalo nickel has to rank as one of the more difficult dates to predict in terms of price in the past century. When a date like the 1926-S seems to defy logic that usually means that there are a number of factors at work and that can make an already interesting date all the more fascinating.
The 1926-S Buffalo nickel has a mintage of 970,000. There were very few coins in the past century that had mintages below 1 million. In fact, there were just two nickels with mintages less than 1 million, and that is fewer than any other denomination. The 1912-S Liberty Head nickel is the other.
The problem is the 1926-S just does not live up to the expectations in circulated grades. Buffalo nickels in general have a real problem with their dates wearing off quickly. That fact, coupled with its low mintage, leads to the conclusion that the 1926-S could be tough even in circulated grades.
However, this conclusion is wrong. The 1926-S is not all that tough in circulated grades. It currently lists for $20 in G-4. While that is not an available date price, you have other dates at $350 in the case of the 1913-S line type or $125 in the case of the line type 1913-D. There are also a number of dates at $20 or more and all of them had higher mintage totals than the 1926-S.
The situation is hard to explain except to just suggest that being a later date, perhaps the 1926-S did not lose its date in the same numbers as some of the earlier dates and consequently is more available than expected.
Numbers in Mint State, however, are not as tied to the mintage totals. They depend on the numbers actually saved at the time. The expectation is that in Mint State the 1926-S might not be as costly as its low mintage would suggest. Once again, this proves to be wrong.
The price starts to move to significantly higher levels when you reach VF-20. The supply seems to simply evaporate in upper circulated grades and is near impossible in Mint State. In MS-60 the 1926-S lists for $4,950, but in MS-65 that price jumps to $125,000 up from $29,500 in 1998.
This new price requires some additional support, and that is seen in the grading service totals. Numismatic Guaranty Corporation reports a total of six examples graded MS-65 or better with one being an MS-66. Professional Coin Grading Service’s total is 10 coins, all MS-65 out of 841 graded. Such totals are extremely unusual for Buffalo nickels.
It is hard to predict just where the price of the 1926-S may go next, although the odds are very good that it certainly is not going to drop in price. Of course, logic has not exactly done well in terms of the 1926-S, but it now appears safe to suggest that the 1926-S has been discovered.