Unique Gold Buffalo Nickel
1913 Type 2 5¢ with Test Cut
Struck on a $5 Gold Planchet (8.33 g)
NGC AU 53
As amazing as it sounds, this is a 1913 Buffalo Nickel struck on a U.S. $5 Gold planchet. This unique discovery surfaced in 2019 and was previously unknown to the numismatic community.
Struck during the era of the five known world-famous 1913 Liberty Head Nickels valued at millions each, this unique Gold Buffalo Nickel is either a mint error or a piece de caprice. It was likely made for a Mint official or a famous numismatist. It also could have been struck for presentation purposes but is not listed in Judd as a pattern.
The only comparable U.S. coins struck in gold, and not in their official adopted metals (copper, nickel, silver) are the following:
- Six known Indian Head Cents struck on $2½ gold planchets. Two of these sold in public auction for $253k and $276k, and I personally sold one at $300k. These are well documented with famous pedigrees. The 1900 in MS 65 PCGS that I sold for 300k was formerly in the collections of B.G. Johnson and Colonel Green.
- Two known 1915 Pan-Pac Half Dollars struck over $20 St. Gaudens gold coins, one realizing $460k in a Heritage Auction. These are commemorative half dollars struck over U.S. $20 gold coins that are very famous and listed in the Judd reference book.
- According to Taxay and mentioned in the Judd book, there exists a 1915 Lincoln Cent struck on a $2½ Indian planchet. Owned by famed numismatists B.G. Johnson and Colonel Green. Supposedly it was sold to J.V. McDermott of 1913 Liberty Nickel fame.
- Twelve specially minted 22-karat gold Sacagawea Dollars flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia. Originally 39 were struck by the United States Mint but 27 were destroyed. After flying in space, these 12 gold Sacagawea Dollars were stored at the Fort Knox Bullion Depository and numismatists value these at $1 million each.
Originally discovered by Silvano DiGenova, a well-known coin dealer in Laguna Beach, California, who brought it to my table at the 2019 Long Beach coin show for me to examine and authenticate. It was raw, and naturally, I was in a state of shock examining it closely. The coin still retained considerable original luster, almost exhibiting a matte surface. Here was an unknown Gold Buffalo Nickel, slightly circulated with a test cut on the reverse, indicating it had been struck on a solid gold planchet.
Although it is impossible to know for sure, the test cut was probably made decades ago before the formation of coin grading companies and the technology to analyze a coin non-invasively. Test cuts were often made on older coins to determine their metal content.
My conclusion was that it was unquestionably authentic, so Sil and I had Fred Weinberg examine it next at his table. At the time, Fred was the PCGS consultant for mint errors and he agreed that it was authentic and a spectacular discovery. Sil then submitted it to PCGS and they authenticated it but chose not to grade it due to the test cut.
This surprised me due to the fact that several well-known U.S. coins (rare and special patterns, die trials, and mint errors) have been certified by PCGS and NGC in regular holders, rather than net graded with details, due to their unique circumstances. A few examples include the unique canceled 1860 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Pattern in Copper (Judd-269), the unique canceled 2011-2013 Martha Washington Quarter Test Piece (Judd-2225), the unique 1814 platinum Bust Half (Judd-44a) with punch marks and graffiti, and the Dexter 1804 Dollar with a counterstamp “D” that is worth several million dollars.
It seemed to me, along with other experts that I consulted with, that this unique Gold Buffalo Nickel with a test cut properly belonged in a regular holder, certified by PCGS or NGC.
Sil placed this Gold Buffalo Nickel in a Heritage Auction, where it realized a shockingly low $78k, due to being in a PCGS “authentic but ungradable” holder. The dealer who purchased it immediately split it with me at his cost as I believed that it was an incredible bargain even in the PCGS holder.
I submitted it to NGC to be examined and potentially certified with a grade in a regular holder. NGC concluded that the test cut did not prevent this Gold Buffalo Nickel from being certified and graded in a regular holder. Now in an NGC AU 53 holder, it is being publicized in Mint Error News and commands the awe and respect of being a unique U.S. gold coin.
I have handled three of the six Gold Indian Head Cents. But handling this unique Gold Buffalo Nickel is certainly a highlight in my career and it belongs in the finest collection of major mint errors, unique coins, or Buffalo Nickels.
Here are a few quotes from well-respected numismatists who examined this unique discovery:
“The GOLD BUFFALO nickel ranks at the top of my list of the BEST error coins I have ever seen! When I finally get to writing the second edition of the Whitman 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins, this will certainly be an addition.”
– Dave Camire
“A fascinating coin. One has to wonder whether it was created by the same person(s) who made the five 1913 Liberty nickels.”
– James Halperin
“A gold Buffalo Nickel is the perfect example of a coin that lies right on the line between something so cool that someone at the Mint would have had to have struck one, and so ridiculously impossible that nobody would have had the nerve to actually do it. Well, here we are!”
– Andy Lustig
“The unique gold buffalo nickel is an incredible coin and an amazing discovery, being discovered in 2019, over a century after its creation. I immediately thought that it ranks among the top US Mint rarities and, as such, should be straight graded. It’s wonderful to have NGC recognize the importance of this coin by authenticating and grading it as AU53. The fame and stature of this coin will only grow over time.”
– John Wang
“The 2008 $10 buffalo and the 2016 centennial non-buffalo issues are the coolest modern issues because they invoke this fantasy of the real issue, the old original coin in gold which has always been dreamt of. Collectors love these modern U.S. Mint dreams. When Sil DiGenova shared his ‘out of this world’ unique discovery GOLD Buffalo, collectors and dealers everywhere were amazed, proud and envious all at once! A striking piece de caprice at the introduction of the second type in 1913. Wow!”
– Marc Crane
“The Gold 1913 Buffalo Nickel immediately brought to mind ‘will wonders never cease?’ After decades in the coin business, very little surprises me, but this was a bolt out of the blue!”
– Ron Guth