Buffalo nickels are very popular amongst numismatists. One reason is the price of lower-grade coins. Most elements of a buffalo nickel sit well above the field of the coin, making it a high relief design. The date is on top of the shoulder of the Indian which is a bit raised, placing it as one of the highest areas on the coin. The rim below the date and the knot in the hair braid above it serve as a protection.
Most surviving nickels have partial dates on them. The first two digits of the date fade away before the last two. A single, bright light positioned at a proper angle will help you identify the faint last two digits.
Buffalo nickels, minted from 1913 to 1938, are usually worth 40 to 50 cents each. Availability and scarcity can drive its value. The exact value of each nickel depends on several factors.
Date and mintmark combination
There were three minting facilities that manufactured Buffalo nickels. Identifying the date and mint of each coin will help determine the value of the coin. Denver and San Francisco placed mintmarks while Philadelphia did not. An “S” on the reverse under the FIVE CENTS means the nickel was from the San Francisco minting facility. Denver mints have a “D” on them. A coin with a date with clear numerals and an “S” mark is a premium value nickel. Denver mints from 1913 to 1926 are all high premium coins. Also, the last series of the Buffalo nickel coins were all from Denver.
The condition of the coin affects the Buffalo nickel value. A bold date places the coin in the upper-grade ranges.
Mint state A coin with no wear on the surface is in a mint state grade. The features on this coin are prominent enough and the surface texture smooth. Nickels of this condition have a high demand.
Extremely fine Clear and well-raised digits of the date imply an extremely fine grade. The last digit should be separate from the tie holding the braid of the hair. This coin only has light wear and some flattened surface.
Fine grade This coin has heavy wear with large areas of flatness. Although complete and separated, the numerals are already worn and letters are faint. A wide space remains to identify each design feature.
Good grade A coin in good grade condition has a readable date although very faint and almost merging. Some details are missing in this coin. There are more flattened areas than contoured ones. A slight definition of contour remains.
Never use chemicals to improve the appearance of any coin. Discolorations lower the value of the coin. Collectors will usually pass on these damaged coins.