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Classic US Coins – You Can’t Roller-Skate In This Buffalo Herd


By Jim BisognaniNumismatic Guaranty Corporation …..

Online Auctions Tide Collectors Over – My Five–0 Season Continues

Summer 2016 has certainly been busy and eventful. Numismatically speaking I can’t recall having enjoyed our hobby as much as I continue on my Five-0—fifty years as a collector-season.

Things have changed in so many ways over the last half century for us coindexters. Technology has improved the production of our treasured metal discs dramatically. The delivery and quality of collector coins throughout the world is fabulous. As a plethora of world mints ramp up production, the new collector has a world of coins to contemplate. Many are worthy additions while others, not so much.

Our illustrious hobby and the business of numismatics is far reaching and as the independent third-party-grading giant NGC expands operations in Europe and Asia, more collectors are enthusiastically coming on board. New hobbyists often ask me why coins are collected with such passion. That is not an easy question to answer. There are scores of numismatists that enjoy the challenge, the hunt, the research, the history and make collecting a lifetime endeavor. It doesn’t really matter where you stand financially either.

Personally I take great joy in acquiring any new coin–US or world–because the coin just looks nice, bold strike, powerful luster, toning, theme, etc. It could be a $5 coin or a $100 coin. I’ve always collected what I’ve enjoyed and obviously what I could afford. Reflecting on it now, my tastes and pursuits cover a lot of territory. As a result, I have not assembled that many complete US or world sets. While certain series or commemoratives pique my curiosity and collecting fervor, I would have to characterize myself as a Type collector.

I believe this to be the most enjoyable and most practical entry point, which is usually true for the new numismatist too. For example, one of my all-time favorite coins is the Buffalo (Indian Head) Nickel. To me, that is the beauty of this coin, as both obverse and reverse are enjoyed by collectors with equal passion. Either way, we have two native Americans gracing this wildly popular issue.

If you are drawn to this wonderful five-cent coin and want to own James Earle Fraser’s iconic design for yourself, the 1938-D (from the last year of issue) is a great piece to acquire. An MS 60 coin will run about $20 and a full NGC MS 65 caliber coin is quoted at an affordable $65, according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide.

Of course buffalo nickels are a popular series with many collectors and completing a full set of Mint State coins (or even a nice circulated set) is quite the challenge. Another great option is the inaugural 1913 issue. Here you will find Type I, with the buffalo securely placed on a rounded mound. Type II features “Black Diamond” the buffalo on a more level, flat surface.

Acquiring both Philadelphia deliveries of the 1913 in MS 62 will set you back around $100 for the pair. For more advanced series aficionados, dramatic errors make for a lively introduction. A fascinating, diverse and valuable trio covers the major varieties and includes the 1916 Double Die, 1918/7-D over-date and the famed 1937-D Three Legged Buffalo. This trio in a nice VF grade would run you $12,750, $4,900 and $775 respectively.

Another alternative for buffalo fanciers is the 2001 $1 Silver Commemorative dollar, which boldly utilizes the popular design in a full silver dollar sized version. Both Mint State and Proof coins are available for this issue. Individually or together as a two-piece Mint State and Proof set were issued by the US Mint. Currently, either an NGC MS 65 2001-D or PF 65 2001-P Ultra Cameo will set you back around $140 each.

Another variant is the 2001 American Coin & Currency Set, which includes a Mint State 2001-D Buffalo Dollar, postage stamps featuring Chief Red Cloud and the American Bison and a superb replica of the 1899 $5 Silver Certificate Chief Onepapa note. This great collectible satisfies both numismatists and philatelists and can be purchased still sealed for around $170.

As another option, in 2006 the US Mint introduced the Gold Buffalo, a dazzling 1 oz. 24-karat gold coin. Collectors, bullion accumulators and investors alike rallied around this fabulous coin, the first .9999 fine gold coin issued by the US Mint. The first year’s 337,012 production is also the high water mark for the series of gold buffalos. The 1 oz. $50 coin has been issued each year since its introduction in both Mint State and Proof format.

In 2008, the series was released in 1/10, one quarter, one half and 1 ounce .9999 gold coins. I recall buying the $10 coin (¼ oz. piece) from the Mint the day they were first offered because I thought it would be neat to have a gold buffalo to mirror the nickel in size. I bought the Proof version for a mere $329.95 nearly eight years ago to the day. Today (and yes, I still have the coin), according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide a PF 67 UC is quoted at $1,275 and a PF 70 UC at $1,750. In fact, the entire 2008 series in MS and PF are highly regarded. Each were produced in very small quantities with the Proof format reporting in at averaging 15,750 and Mint State averaging 13,340 per issue.

According to the NGC Census as of this writing, 541,077 buffalo nickels, silver buffalo dollars and gold buffalos have been graded by NGC. That is quite the herd by any standard! (With that image in my head all I can think of is Roger Miller’s novelty tune from 1965 “You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd”)

Take a look at the NGC Price Guide and target your metal of choice! To date, this is the only US coin design that has been struck in three metals! This speaks to the respect and demand for this all-American favorite.

As we go to press, it’s less than three weeks away from the ANA World’s Fair of Money, the granddaddy of them all. Running August 9-13, the Golden State hosts this summer institution in Anaheim. If you haven’t already booked passage, I suggest you do so immediately. Novice, serious collectors and professionals will all be congregating at the Anaheim Convention Center. Wonderful world-class exhibits, rare coins, collector coins from the US and the “four corners” will be on display and for sale. Of course, show-stopping mega auctions hosted by Heritage and Stack’s Bowers will be a major draw and give serious direction as to the market as we (dare I say) prepare for fall.

Anyway until the big show online auctions, such as Ian Russell’s Great Collections Auctions, will fill the void with some fine collector coins. The just concluded Sunday night auction on July 17 included this prime time NGC trio:

1807 Draped Bust Half Dollar NGC MS 65 $42,350

A stunning Early Federal issue, the last of the Draped Bust variety. Lustrous silver centers framed by light bronze copper and sea green highlight this gem coin. Only three grade a single point higher.

1882-CC $20 Liberty NGC AU 58 $8,208

A popular double eagle from the famed Carson City facility. Only 39,140 coins were struck and the majority of this Old West issue saw extensive circulation as fewer than an estimated 1,500 remain for collectors in all grades. Not surprisingly fewer than 65 appear as Mint State on the NGC Census. This lustrous lightly abraded coin is on the cusp of being fully Mint State and was a great buy for the advanced double eagle collector or CC specialist.

1907 $20 Saint-Gaudens High Relief Wire Rim NGC MS 66 $57,750

Captivating and desirable the always popular high relief Saint-Gaudens is a bellwether within the coin industry. Always in great demand, to date 3,657 of this coin have been graded by NGC with the average grade equaling MS 62 approximately 4% of those graded meet the MS 66 benchmark. And only 41 coins have achieved a loftier numeric grade.

Until next time, happy collecting!

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Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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