By Everett Millman – Gainesville Coins ……
It’s quite common to find Buffalo nickels that are dateless—missing the four digits that indicate the year the coin was made. We’ll examine why this happened and help you determine how much no-date Buffalo nickels are worth.
Why Some Buffalo Nickels Have No Date
As amusing as it is to imagine, the United States Mint didn’t simply forget to put the date on certain Buffalo nickels. All dateless Buffalo nickels did, at one time, have a visible date on the coin. These no-date coins were the result of circulation and excessive handling. The numbers wore away over time.
Although wear is the immediate cause of a coin missing the date, the problem began with a flaw in the Mint’s design. More accurately, the failing was in U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber’s less-than-enthusiastic execution of sculptor James Earle Fraser’s design. Barber is thought to have been bitter that his own nickel design in use since 1883 was being replaced.
The location of the date on the coin also contributed to the issue. Because it was placed near one of the higher relief portions of the design, the numerals of the date were some of the first features to wear away through their lifetime of use.
Moreover, the relatively low value of nickels ensured that these coins circulated heavily. The widespread use of nickels in commerce meant that the features on these coins wore away more quickly than larger denominations like half dollars and silver dollars.
How to Tell What Year Your Buffalo Nickel Is
The year-date will always be located on the shoulder of the Indian head, just above the miniature “F” inscription for designer James Earle Fraser.
Partial dates are also common. This is where much if not all of the date is missing, but the final two digits can be made out, and thus the date of the issue is easily determined. Buffalo nickels were minted from 1913 to 1938, so the first two digits will always be “19”.
Remember, dateless Buffalo nickels all actually have an underlying date. Revealing that date is the tricky part.
Many coin dealers and collectors will apply a small amount of acid to the portion of the coin where the date once was. The type of acid used is usually ferric chloride, often sold under the brand Nic-a-Date. This process should create enough contrast with the date inscription so that the numbers can be determined.
The use of acid does damage the coin, of course. Over the years, the process may have to be done more than once. This leaves an increasingly ugly discoloration on the area of the year-date.
Find the Value of Your No Date Buffalo Nickel
So how much are no date Buffalo nickels worth? At a minimum, these coins trade for 20 cents or more. It’s not uncommon to see them sell for more than $1. Prices can go much higher if revealing the date yields a key date or variety.
Here’s a quick list of key date Buffalo nickels and their values:
Keep in mind that any dateless Buffalo nickel will be heavily worn. That means prices will generally be at the low end for the coin type.
Popularity of Buffalo Nickels Without a Date
There are only a small number of coin collectors who specialize in no-date Buffalo nickels, to be frank. Unlike true error coins, these dateless coins are not a special variety. They’re merely well-circulated.
Nonetheless, dateless Buffalo nickels are still collectible and worth something, even if they’re almost completely worn.
Both the United States Mint and private refineries have capitalized on the popularity of the famous Buffalo and Indian Head designs for modern precious metals products.
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About the Author
Everett Millman has been the head content writer and market analyst at Gainesville Coins since 2013. He has a background in History and is deeply interested in how gold and silver have historically fit into the financial system.
In addition to blogging, Everett’s work has been featured in Reuters, CNN Business, Bloomberg Radio, TD Ameritrade Network, CoinWeek, and has been referenced by the Washington Post.