By CoinWeek ….
Sometimes when a collector is about to set the seal on finding a great rarity in the wild, a discovery like this comes along and inspires hope anew. On Sunday, January 17, bidding ends on GreatCollections.com for this key-date 1926-S Buffalo nickel, recently graded MS-65 by PCGS and approved by CAC as strong for the grade.
The 970,000 pieces struck at the San Francisco Mint in 1926 represent the lowest mintage of the entire series, and therefore it is a true rarity among Buffalo nickels. Noted US coin expert David Hall, formerly of PCGS, describes the 1926-S as the “rarest non-variety Buffalo nickel” and “one of the most important rarities of 20th-century numismatics.”
According to GreatCollections, the example currently on offer was part of a roll of mixed nickels that a family had set aside and not scrutinized for a stunning 90 years. Finally, the latest generation to inherit the coins examined them and became aware of the great rarity they had tucked away for nearly a century. The 1926-S was submitted to PCGS only in the last couple of years, making a total of 15 specimens certified MS-65 by the grading company. Rare in all grades, a Mint State example is exceptionally difficult to find, and only three coins have been given the top pop grade of PCGS MS-65+.
This is definitively a five-figure coin. And, with the exception of a piece that went for $66,000 USD in November 2020, auction records over the last decade are closing in on six figures. An example sold in January 2019 for $96,938, and a year earlier another specimen went for $99,000. A 2014 auction saw an MS-65 go for $94,000, and in 2013, a 1926-S Buffalo nickel in PCGS MS-65 garnered $105,750.
At the time of writing, the highest bid on this 1926-S Buffalo nickel is $82,500 after 24 bids.
To search through GreatCollection’s archive of over 600,000 certified coins the company has sold over the past seven years, please visit the GreatCollections Auction Archives.
Background of the Buffalo Nickel
The Buffalo or Indian Head nickel has been a popular series with collectors since the start of the type in 1913, fostered by the introduction of collecting boards and albums in the 1930s.
The first Buffalo nickels were minted in February 1913 and released into circulation in early March. It soon became apparent, however, that the raised denomination on the reverse would see excessive wear, and to minimize that, Mint Engraver Charles Barber cut away most of the mound upon which the bison stands to provide a recessed space (called an exergue) for the text. The obverse date was equally exposed (though no apparent changes were made to protect it), and it is not unusual to see examples of Buffalo nickels today with the date nearly obliterated.
Barber also made additional modifications to the design, smoothing the textured fields and reducing details in both the Indian’s hair and the bison’s hide, changes that reduced the artistic strength of the original design in the opinion of many. Barber’s modifications are labeled Type (or Variety) 2. Some authors have proposed an additional “Type 3” designation for nickels produced from 1916 through 1938 based on changes made in 1916, though these nickels are not usually considered a separate type. The 1916 changes included a sharper depiction of the word LIBERTY on the obverse, including a slight repositioning of that text toward the center, and other modifications to the portrait, particularly the nose (though the latter is questioned by some scholars).
Along with typical overpunch and doubled varieties, the Buffalo nickel is noted for some additional anomalies. A classic piece of American coinage is the 1937-D 3-Legged nickel, which resulted from a careless or over-zealous effort to remove clash marks or defects from the reverse die. A few 1927 prooflike Philadelphia nickels were identified in 1989 as Specimen strikings, described as having exceptional details, flat rims with squared inner edges but wire (or knife) outer edges, and satin surfaces with reflective edges.
No nickels were minted for circulation in 1922, 1932, or 1933.
James Earle Fraser’s design for the coin included popular western themes represented by the Native American on the obverse and the bison (more commonly known as a buffalo, despite the fact that the two are distinct species) on the reverse. The coin also had matte or pebbled fields popular with sculptors of the day, instead of the smooth or polished surfaces typically seen on U.S. coins.
A right-facing Indian portrait (a composite of three actual Indian chiefs–or so says the Mint, who may have had a motive to deny any particular model’s claim to the coin), with hair braided to the side and two feathers tied at the crown, occupies most of the obverse. The word LIBERTY is placed to the upper right, just beyond the forehead, and is the only text next to the raised rim. The date is located at the lower left, on the portrait shoulder, and the designer’s initial F is located below the date.
A full side view of a left-facing bison dominates the reverse, the beast standing on a slightly raised mound under which is the denomination of FIVE CENTS. UNITED STATES oF AMERICA forms an arc above the bison inside the flat rim, and crowded into the space below AMERICA and above the back of the animal is E PLURIBUS UNUM, each word on a separate line. Indian Head nickels were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mintmarks are located below the denomination.
Buffalo Nickels in the Market
A few thousand business strike Buffalo nickels have been certified for each date in the series, though fewer for some varieties and the census includes very few prooflike pieces. Prices are modest for many dates up to and including MS66, but generally expensive to very expensive finer than that. Higher priced issues, all expensive to very expensive, include 1913-S (Type 2), 1914 4 Over 3, 1916 Doubled Die Obverse (extremely expensive finer than MS60), 1918-D 8 Over 7 (extremely expensive finer than MS63), San Francisco examples from the early to mid-1920s, 1935 Doubled Die Reverse, 1936-D 3 1/2 Legs, and 1937-D 3-Legged. Matte or Satin Proofs were minted from 1913 through 1916, and in 1936; and Brilliant Proofs were minted in 1936 and 1937; specimen examples are confirmed for 1927 and reported for 1917, 1919, and 1935.