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What to Do When You Hear: ‘What’s a Buffalo Nickel?’

Suggestions for being a numismatic ambassador, and exploring opportunities in Newman IX

By Jim BisognaniNGC Contributor ……..
The other evening, Beth and I were out with some friends for dinner, and as usually happens at some point during the conversation, something with a scent of numismatics came up. I try to suppress it, but if someone figuratively (or, in some instances, literally) puts this subject on the table — well, I am compelled to release the coindexter from within.

On this occasion, Pam (a friend and co-worker of Beth’s) brought up collectibles and other valuables, and she lamented that one of the items that was lost or stolen years ago was a Buffalo Nickel.

I asked Pam if she was a collector, and she said not really, but it was just something that a family member had set aside for her and she really liked the design and it was special to her.

I asked the year of the coin. Pam said she didn’t remember. I, of course, responded that it would’ve been dated between 1913 and 1938.

Immediately after those remarks, Jillian, a co-worker friend seated next to Pam, asked her: “What’s a Buffalo Nickel?” Pam simply told her it’s a nickel with a Buffalo on it!

I then chimed in with And an Indian on the obverse of the coin. Pam’s friend still looked slightly befuddled, and said she’d never seen one.

Now I realize that I am “old”, but this is the first time that I can recall that anyone within a few decades of my aging carcass wasn’t aware of the iconic Buffalo Nickel. It got me thinking just how many people don’t know anything of our rich numismatic history — just the pedestrian and familiar coins in daily circulation — and they never give it another thought.

Spread the Knowledge

Of course, virtually everyone is aware that coin collecting is a great hobby and that there are some valuable and very rare coins. Yet at this dinner table, Jillian had not been bitten by the history and collecting bug in general, it seems. This is why, when given the opportunity, I do my best to extoll the virtues, the history, the idiosyncrasies within a particular series, and impart my excitement about coins to virtually anyone who will listen.

Peace Type Silver Dollar AlbumIf I am at a local show, I will give mixed “wheat cents” to curious youngsters, and I still find that their parents will wax a bit nostalgic about their parents’ or grandparents’ collection of Lincoln pennies or Morgan Silver Dollars. Sometimes that’s all it takes, dropping a few seeds (or coins) to trigger a pleasant numismatic memory. Perhaps searching through rolled pennies at the dinner table with Mom or Dad, and then inserting a few previously missing ones in an old, blue Whitman folder.

I recall in my youth carefully making notes about various world mints, then writing and researching (yes, even then) and carefully hand-scribing important data on 2×2 cardboard holders and vinyl flips. This was followed by the joy of viewing my modest collection of various world coins, which I had packed alphabetically in a row like soldiers, all housed in a small red cardboard box.

I truly have memories that have lasted me a lifetime, and I am really so happy to impart the knowledge, the excitement, the wonder that coin collecting has given me, both as a pastime and business.

So I ask the readers of this column to do your best to inspire and nurture a new collector, a youngster or a contemporary. I mean, what could be more exciting than to scrounge up a few foreign coins or perhaps a roll of Lincoln Wheat Cents from your respective existing collections. Then, pick up a blue Whitman folder for, say, the 1941-1958 Lincoln Cents and help someone fill all of those holes! Fun and certainly inexpensive!

Newman IX Treasures

Speaking of a lifetime of memories and collecting, we are only a week away from the sale of the Newman IX collection. Heritage will be the auctioneer of the 427 NGC-graded Newman treasures in Dallas. The sale is scheduled for November 1-3.

An amazing assemblage including colonials, classic copper, early federal rarities, Confederate States issues, US gold and territorials and classic commems. Truly something awaits for collectors of all budgets and specialties. This is a wonderful opportunity to view and bid on some of the marvelous coins that Mr. Newman had purchased — in some instances, over 90 years ago! Mr. Newman is a true numismatic treasure and icon at 106 years of age!

It is quite the challenge, but here are a few of the historic and wonderfully preserved coins I will be following intently.

1793 Large Cent Wreath Lettered Edge S-11, graded NGC AU 55. A magically delicious-looking 1793! The slightly orangey olive brown and golden patina is so very appealing. The obverse strike, which is bold, is also just a tad off center, which accentuates the beaded border. A truly magnificent first-year copper purchased by Mr. Newman from Col. Green for a mere $90!

1861 Original Confederate Half Dollar, graded NGC PF 40. Tied for the finest available of four known examples struck by the Confederacy at the New Orleans branch mint in 1861. The modest obverse die crack and the specific weight of this coin verify this piece to be an original. Steely gun-metal gray surfaces define this coin. It was secured by Mr. Newman for $4,000. Amazingly, this historic and tangible numismatic link to the Confederacy has been off the market since the height of the Great Depression in 1931. A truly special coin and a virtually unique opportunity, as the likelihood of seeing another on the market within the next decade or longer is highly unlikely.

1786 New Jersey Wide Shield Maris 21-N, graded NGC VF 35. An enigmatic and charismatic New Jersey copper. Defined by the prominent bulging shield on the reverse along with a crudely recut date, 1786 on the obverse, this has always been one of my favorites in the New Jersey coppers. It was purchased by Mr. Newman for the princely sum of $7.50, certainly a more affordable option for colonial collectors to secure a fine example at a modest price pedigreed to the great Eric P. Newman collection.

1855 Large Cent Upright 55 N-8, graded NGC AU 55 BN. Here is an otherwise modestly priced late-date Large Cent. I have always had a fondness for this issue, defined by those happy-looking upright double 5s. Since my youth, I have always admired it, yet I have never owned one. Perhaps I will next week.

1826 Capped Bust Half Dollar, graded NGC AU 58. Yet another carefully selected, gloriously original coin acquired by Mr. Newman. The workhorse of commerce, the Capped Bust Half Dollar should find a place in every collector’s cabinet. Although a break from the copper issues above, this coin is endowed with a blaze of vibrant orange copper shades and deep sea green toning. Truly marvelous, and worthy of a premium for such eye appeal.

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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