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1916 Buffalo Nickel : A Collector’s Guide

1916 Buffalo Nickel. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1916 Buffalo Nickel. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes ….
 

The strike quality of the 1916 Buffalo Nickel was an improvement over previous issues as the United States Mint prepared new obverse hubs to fix the issues that had vexed the design since its introduction. The inscriptions were noticeably strengthened but problems would remain for the duration of the Buffalo Nickel’s 25-year production run.

The Philadelphia Mint struck 63,498,066 nickels in 1916 – a record sum for the nickel five-cent coin that would stand until Philadelphia blew that total out of the water in 1936. For context, modern nickel mintages are routinely 13-15 times this amount. With such a large mintage, the 1916 Buffalo Nickel is a type coin from the pre-1920 period.

This issue is common in Mint State and is readily available in all grades up to MS65. Conditional scarcity exists at the MS67 level and finer.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

The PCGS MS67 population has increased from 10 with none finer in March 2007 to 13 pieces with none finer in November 2011, and then to 50 with seven in MS67+ and one in MS68 as of July 2024. As of 2009, NGC reported only 10 coins at MS67 with none finer. Today, that total stands at 24 in MS67, with four in MS67+ and one in MS68.

Top Population: PCGS MS68 (1, 6/2024), NGC MS68 (1, 6/2024), and CAC MS67 (12:0 stickered:graded, 6/2024).

  • NGC MS68 #604564-010: “The Leonard J. Torok, M.D. Collection,” Bowers and Merena, September 1998, 289; “The Teton Ranch Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 6, 2012, Lot 5241 – $14,375. Gold and orange toning with prismatic toning around the periphery.
  • PCGS MS67+ #47407475: GreatCollections, September 10, 2023, Lot 1350381 – View.
  • PCGS MS67+ #46729417: GreatCollections, June 4, 2023, Lot 1168115 – View.
  • PCGS MS67+ #25680904: Heritage Auctions, July 13, 2021, Lot 3013 – $15,600; Heritage Auctions, January 12, 2023, Lot 3655 – $16,800. Pale iridescent toning on both sides in gold, green, gold, and orange.
  • NGC MS67+ #4921144-004: GreatCollections, March 27, 2022, Lot 713402 – View.
  • PCGS MS67+ CAC #39837282: GreatCollections, October 4, 2020, Lot 748745 – View.
  • NGC MS67+ #4882809-006: Heritage Auctions, February 21, 2020, Lot 3556 – $4,080. Pale peach toning.
  • NGC MS67 #6606065-001: GreatCollections, August 6, 2023, Lot 1325663 – View; Heritage Auctions, September 15, 2023, Lot 3245 – $1,860.
  • PCGS MS67 #35103303: Heritage Auctions, June 14, 2018, Lot 3838 – $6,600; Heritage Auctions, March 29, 2024, Lot 3224 – $5,160. Streaky gold and apricot toning.
  • PCGS MS67 #06659285: Heritage Auctions, July 8, 2010, Lot 3368 – $5,462.50; Heritage Auctions, May 4, 2023, Lot 3671 – $4,560.
  • NGC MS67 #5704407-001: GreatCollections, March 8, 2020, Lot 744974 – View; Heritage Auctions, June 5, 2020, Lot 3400 – $2,220; Heritage Auctions, January 16, 2022, Lot 7072 – $3,360. Pale blue areas washed over with dusk-like russet.
  • PCGS MS67 CAC #41058651: Heritage Auctions, January 13, 2022, Lot 3274 – $4,920. Iridescent toning in green, gold, and magenta.
  • PCGS MS67 #39502645: GreatCollections, September 27, 2020, Lot 844171 – View; “The Silver Springs Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, August 16, 2021, Lot 1325 – $3,600Ice blue and pale violet toning with hints of yellow. Light spotting in the field in the lower left of the reverse.
  • PCGS MS67 #36612861: Heritage Auctions, January 31, 2019, Lot 3541 – $3,600; Heritage Auctions, January 21, 2021, Lot 3418 – $3,000.
  • PCGS MS67 #40444794: Heritage Auctions, November 20, 2020, Lot 3544 – $3,000; Heritage Auctions, April 22, 2021, Lot 3297 – $2,880. Pale ice blue and green hue.
  • PCGS MS67 #39157605: Heritage Auctions, April 23, 2020, Lot 3251 – $4,080.

1916/916 Buffalo Nickel, Doubled Die Obverse

1916/916 Buffalo Nickel Doubled Die Obverse. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1916/916 Buffalo Nickel Doubled Die Obverse. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

FS-101. Guide Book variety. The 1916/916 Doubled Die Obverse is the most dramatic doubled die in the Buffalo Nickel series and one of the most pronounced doubled dies in all 20th-century American coinage. The doubling can be seen along the edges of the Indian’s profile, braid, and feather, but is most noticeable at the date, where an impression of 916 hangs low and to the right in the background. The experts who have studied this variety concluded that the errant impressions were caused during the rehubbing of the dies (dies require multiple impressions from a hub to bring out the full details of the design). As the die shifted somewhat between impressions, the design elements of later impressions were misaligned.

Close-up image of the dramatic doubling on the 1916/916 Buffalo Nickel. Image: Stack's Bowers.
Close-up image of the dramatic doubling on the 1916/916 Buffalo Nickel. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

The first specimen of this Mint error was reported by collector Herbert S. Perlin of Pomona, California, and published in the July 1962 issue of Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine. Unknown in Gem, rare in Mint State, and usually encountered in the lower circulated grades, series specialists estimate an extant population of fewer than 400 coins. As of June 2024, CAC, NGC, and PCGS combined to have graded just shy of 300 examples.

At the upper end of the condition census are a handful of coins graded MS64 and MS63. NGC and PCGS combine to count nine coins at the MS64 level with CAC giving their approval sticker to just two of them. One of the two coins appeared at two Legend Rare Coin Auctions (LRCA) sales between 2016 and 2018, failing to sell both times. Other 1916/916 Buffalo Nickels in AU were also passed at Legend sales between 2015 and 2017; it’s important to understand that the coin market was especially soft during this period.

In 2022, a CAC-approved PCGS MS63 example sold at Heritage Auctions for $138,000, advancing over $30,000 for what a CAC-approved NGC MS63 sold for in a 2019 Heritage sale.

Top Population: PCGS MS64 (3, 6/2024), NGC MS64 (6, 6/2024), and CAC MS64 (2:0 stickered:graded, 6/2024).

  • PCGS MS64 CAC #25562670: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, December 15, 2016, Lot 125 – Passed; Legend Rare Coin Auctions, December 22, 2017- January 25, 2018, Lot 99 – Passed. Wispy orange and maroon toning scattered throughout. Thin diagonal mark on the neck above 6. On the reverse, there is a diagonal mark on the Buffalo’s foreleg.
  • NGC MS64 #632380-013: Bowers and Merena, April 2008, Lot 196 – $276,000; “The Teton Ranch Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2012, Lot 3088 – $172,500. Orange and rust toning all over.
  • PCGS MS64 #21620854: Heritage Auctions, September 22, 2005, Lot 1853 – $264,500; “The Joseph C. Thomas Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 30, 2009, Lot 2131 – $184,000. Pastel pink and gold toning.
  • PCGS MS64 #10897672: “The Scott Rudolph Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 8, 2009, Lot 3640 – $195,500. Pale target toning on the obverse with ice blue centers and gold, orange, and magenta around the periphery.
  • PCGS MS63 CAC #42764935: As PCGS MS62 #06580087. “The Scott Rudolph Collection,” Heritage Auctions, January 2009, Lot 3639 – $86,250. As PCGS MS63 CAC #42764935. Heritage Auctions, August 24, 2022, Lot 3889 – $138,000. Gately Collection on insert. Gold crescent toning on the left side of the obverse. Steel blue throughout.
  • PCGS MS63 CAC #250444527: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, June 25, 2015, Lot 240 – $146,875. Gold and magenta iridescence throughout. Striations on the obverse and reverse.
  • NGC MS63 CAC #2074244-001: As NGC MS63 #1624581-001. Heritage Auctions, March 2012, Lot 3178 – $103,627.65; As NGC MS63 CAC #2074244-001. Heritage Auctions, August 14, 2019, Lot 3718 – $105,000.
  • PCGS MS62 #6563043: “The Larry H. Miller Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, November 12, 2020, Lot 6091 – $78,000. Nearly horizontal striated toning pattern in gold and goldenrod.
  • NGC MS61 #6816762-001: Stack’s Bowers, March 26, 2024, Lot 4052 – $54,000.
  • NGC MS61 #3260330-003: “The James Cole Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 24, 2022, Lot 3888 – $51,600. Diagonal striated toning in iridescent cream and golden brown on both sides.
  • NGC MS61 #2648275-001: “The Indian Rocks Collection,” Heritage Auctions, April 28, 2016, Lot 4556 – $59,925. Nearly vertical striations on the obverse. Dappled cream and brown toning.
  • NGC AU58 #6358193-001: Herbert S. Perlin Discovery example, NGC reported that it had graded the coin on February 14, 2023.
  • PCGS AU58 #43368385: Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2021, Lot 4036 – $44,400. Diagonal hits on the high cheek.
  • PCGS AU58 #82124544: Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2017, Lot 5562 – $42,300. Large (and distracting) scrape below the chin.
  • NGC AU58 #1893059-007: Heritage Auctions, April 6, 2006, Lot 289 – $46,000; Heritage Auctions, July 9, 2015, Lot 3049 – $49,350. Pale pastel target toning on the obverse.
  • NGC AU55 #2019081-003: As NGC AU55. Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2012, Lot 11264, $25,000 Reserve Not Met; Stack’s Bowers, November 16, 2012, Lot 3056 – $23,630.43. As NGC AU55 #2019081-003. Stack’s Bowers, February 2016, Lot 96 – $32,312.50; “The Abernathy Collection,” Stack’s Bowers, November 1, 2022, Lot 5024 – $20,400. Planchet is striated, goldenrod color coin.
  • NGC AU55 #2134024-001: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, August 27, 2020, Lot 79 – $21,737.50. Tan and russet toning. Diagonal brown striations on the reverse.
  • NGC AU55 #1775805-001: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, September 20, 2017 – October 26, 2017, Lot 139 – Passed.
  • PCGS AU55 CAC #25564342: Heritage Auctions, January 4, 2012, Lot 3087 – $35,305; “The Craig and Jeff Lehrer Collection,” Heritage Auctions, August 10, 2016, Lot 3984 – $39,950. Creamy with speckled tan toning. Diagonal tick on jaw. Myriad light ticks on the buffalo.
  • PCGS AU55 CAC #25237212: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 21, 2015 – June 25, 2015, Lot 239 – Passed. Orange-gold toning throughout.
  • PCGS AU55: Stack’s Bowers, August 7, 2012, Lot 11263 – $30,561.75.

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Design

Obverse:

The 1916 Buffalo Nickel features an oversized bust of a Native American warrior as the central motif on the obverse. For this effigy, sculptor James Earle Fraser made a composite image of three well-known men: Chief Iron Tail of the SiouxBig Tree of the Kiowa, and Two Moons of the Cheyenne. The composite Indian wears two feathers in his hair and a braid running down the side of his head. The date (1916) is superimposed over the truncation of the bust, and the legend LIBERTY is off to the side at 2 o’clock on the rim.

Reverse:

The central motif on the reverse was supposedly based on a buffalo named Black Diamond that lived at the New York Central Park Zoological Garden, who happened to die in 1915, the design’s third year of issue. Standard types display all of the animal’s four legs. The buffalo stands on a small strip of land, below which is the denomination FIVE CENTS. Arcing above the animal’s back around the rim is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is squeezed between AMERICA and the animal’s back. As this type was struck at the San Francisco Mint, the S mintmark is found at the bottom of the design under the denomination.

This design does not include the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST. According to numismatist and CoinWeek contributor Roger Burdette, Mint Director George Roberts informed Fraser that “the motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ is not required upon this coin.”

Edge:

The edge of the 1916 Buffalo Nickel is plain or smooth.

Designer

An American sculptor, James Earle Fraser was active during the first half of the 20th century. Born in Minnesota, Fraser attended the Art Institute of Chicago and displayed some of his earliest artwork at the 1893 World’s Columbian and 1915 Panama Pacific Expositions, including his piece entitled End of the Trail. Much of his work centered around Native American themes and is embodied in his 1913 Indian Head Nickel design.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year of Issue: 1916
Denomination: Five Cents (USD)
Mintmark: None (Philadelphia)
Mintage: 63,498,066
Alloy: .750 Copper, .250 Nickel
Weight: 5.0 g
Diameter: 21.2 mm
Edge: Plain
OBV Designer: James Earl Fraser
REV Designer: James Earl Fraser
Quality: Business Strike

 

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Sources

Burdette, Roger W. Renaissance of American Coinage: 1909–1915. (2007)

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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