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Slabs boost Buffalo nickel series


Buffalo nickel (Type 1) Denomination: 5 cents Weight: 5 grams Diameter: 21.2 mm Composition: Copper-Nickel Dates Minted: 1913 Designer: James Earle Fraser

Is your Buffalo nickel set ready for slabbing?

If you want to sell it easily, it had better be.

Alex Panchecho, owner of Tipsico Coin, Corvallis, Ore., said that the market for Buffalo nickel series seems to be shifting.

“The average good to very good Buffalo nickels that people put in their Whitman folders are deader than a doornail,” he said. “It seems like collectors are going for higher grade examples these days.”

High grade, certified Buffalo nickels – slabs in hobby jargon – are now selling better than uncertified examples, he said.

“I had a 1920-S Buffalo nickel in the store,” Panchecho said. “The 1920-S is normally of a poor quality. The strike on this coin was above what you’d normally see and it sat for weeks.

“If it had been in a slab, it would have sold in less than a week.”

David Lange, author of “The Complete Guide to Buffalo Nickels” and director of research at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation in Sarasota, Fla., confirmed the trend to certified coins.

“Based on the large numbers of well worn Buffaloes I see at NGC every day, the answer is clearly yes,” he said.

“It used to be only high grade coins and dates that were subject to counterfeiting or alteration would be submitted for certification, but now something as common as a 1925-S nickel in very good or fine is a candidate for certification.

“Personally, I would rather see such a coin be placed into a folder or album, saving slabs for pieces grading very fine or higher, but clearly the market is moving away from that notion.”

As collectors certify their Buffalo nickels, certain years, grades and strikes are becoming prevalent, he said.

“When I was collecting the series years ago, I could not find a well struck 1919-D nickel, but these are now appearing with some regularity in auctions,” Lange said. “I believe the certification of coins brought some of these out of hiding or, at least, gave them more prominence.

“Some coins remain keys across all grades, examples being 1913-S Type 2, 1924-S and 1926-S. These are submitted for certification even in well worn condition,” Lange said.

“Other coins are common in lesser grades but rare in choice or gem Mint State. The 1914-D nickel is one that was underrated for many years. As collectors become more quality conscious, well struck 1934-D and 1935-D nickels are gaining more attention.”

Even a few MS-68 Buffalo nickels have been seen by Professional Coin Grading Service and NGC, but collectors shouldn’t expect many grading higher, he said.

“I had one numismatic writer ask me repeatedly whether a Buffalo nickel would ever be graded MS-70,” Lange said.

“I answered that coin production technology of the period precluded such perfection for either proof or currency pieces and I don’t believe that any reputable grading service will ever assign an MS-70 grade to a Buffalo nickel. Examples grading MS-69 are great rarities and will remain so.”

Panchecho said collectors should also watch out for grade rarities in the upper circulated grades but below Mint State.

Buffalo nickel (Type 2) Denomination: 5 cents Weight: 5 grams Diameter: 21.2 mm Composition: Copper-Nickel Dates Minted: 1913 to 1921, 1923 to 1931, 1934 to 1938 Designer: James Earle Fraser

Buffalo nickel (Type 2)Denomination: 5 centsWeight: 5 gramsDiameter: 21.2 mmComposition: Copper-NickelDates Minted: 1913 to 1921, 1923 to 1931, 1934 to 1938Designer: James Earle Fraser

“Extremely fine to about uncirculated Buffalo nickels from the 1910s and 1920s are ones you really don’t see,” he said. “Either they were saved in Mint State or were in circulation for a long time. I will pay more money for XF and AU examples.”

Collectors should also factor in how well struck a Buffalo nickel is, he said.

“Coins like the 1923-S that have a full strike and are a quality coin are priced much higher than a problem coin,” Panchecho said. “Well struck Buffalo nickels of the 1920s will sell. The 1926-D full strike is a good one.”

Lange said that, with the increased focus on the strike of Buffalo nickels, grading standards have even changed.

“For circulated pieces the biggest issue is quality of strike,” he said. “The old rule that a Buffalo nickel had to display a full horn to grade VF or higher finally collapsed under the weight of so many poorly defined reverses, and even the American Numismatic Association finally revised its standards to no longer require a full horn for VF-20.

“Mint State coins are graded more on the basis of luster and surface quality, with strike being secondary. Only a coin that is very badly struck will be downgraded for this feature,” Lange said.

“The ANA’s grading guide includes a roster of date/mint combinations known to come weakly struck, and it is in line with my own thinking.

“To its list, however, I would add the very common 1938-D issue. I see many collectors posting images of their lustrous gem specimens online, and I’ve found that they often fail to notice that their coin, while well struck for the condition of the dies, is actually a product of dies that revealed heavy erosion,” Lange said.

With many factors like grading and strike involved in building a Buffalo nickel set, collectors should establish a target grade early on, he said.

“A collection that has low grade coins alternating with high grade ones is not eye appealing,” Lange said. “While an entirely Mint State set is cost prohibitive for most, one consisting of VF to AU coins for the early dates through the 1920s and Mint State coins thereafter is an attainable goal.

“This describes my own collection, which was sold following publication of the first edition of my book in 1992. I sent out a price list to buyers of the book, and all of the coins were sold within a week.

“This was a testament to my goal of selecting only attractive coins for their respective grades,” Lange said.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express.
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