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Dateless nickels, timeless memory

Did you enjoy the Page 1 story about Buffalo nickels as much as I did?


Kids, coins and Nic-A-Date went together when I was a new collector a half century ago.

How well I remember.

Puzzling over dateless Buffalo nickels was more than I could bear. I succumbed to the allure of acid treatment.

It was wonderful that I could know what dates were on the coins. My only regret was I didn’t have more dateless nickels to treat.

It was great fun solving the mystery, but there was no financial gain. Acid-treated coins were considered damaged and not collectible. They still are last time I checked.

Even the Native American jewelers of the Southwest cannot use acid-treated coins in their creations.

So as I discovered so long ago, a dateless nickel no matter what an acid treatment reveals is still worth just five cents.

But will it always be so?

I don’t know how many dateless coins survive, but there must be many of them otherwise they would have all disappeared from the jewelry demand. Their current price of around a quarter apiece on average, has not increased since I first came to work here nearly 40 years ago.

That’s got to be the definition of a bad investment.

Silver coins that were worth 3.5 times face value are now worth about 12.5 times face value. These at least kept up with inflation. I checked the consumer price index 1978 to 2016 and discovered that the increase in the value of the silver coins is exactly pacing the cost of living almost to the last decimal point.

There couldn’t be a more perfect example of an inflation hedge.

However, dateless Buffalo nickels are not. Their owners might have many wonderful memories of how they were acquired, but in terms of value, keeping them has proved to be quite costly in lost purchasing power. Fortunately, those coins I treated and set aside so many years ago were not so numerous as to have any impact on my well being, a couple of dozen perhaps, I think I still have them. The only question is where I put them.

I had fun. The money involved was not that much in the scheme of how a kid amused himself on a summer day many years ago. I certainly spent much more at the nearby county fair.

The financial calculus has not improved for acid treated coins. But who is to say future collectors will not act differently? They might assign value to coins that otherwise are completely out of financial reach. Certainly having a slabbing option helps.

The reader who brought his interest in dateless Buffaloes to my attention on the telephone told me that there is a significant time commitment involved when you jump into it with both feet. But a hobby is supposed to take some time. The question is filling the time by doing something you want to do as a collector.

If restoring dates on dateless nickels is that choice, go for it.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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