Check Your Buffalo Nickels — Rare Coins Can Be Worth Thousands

Rachel Curry - Author
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Oct. 14 2022, Published 3:51 p.m. ET

Numismatics, or the study of coins, has been around as we know it today since the 17th century. That means the study includes buffalo nickels, which the U.S. made for decades in the early half of the 20th century.

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Today, buffalo nickels have value, but the precise value depends on the coin itself. There are certain factors that determine what kind of buffalo nickel you have and if it’s worth good money.

Buffalo nickels with dates vs. no dates: What’s the difference?

Buffalo nickels, also called Indian head nickels (due to the portrait of a Native American on the back), were in production by the U.S. Mint from 1913–1938. Sculptor James Earle Fraser designed the coin (Fraser is known for many other figures, including the End of The Trail sculpture in Waupun, Wisc.

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Being a centenarian isn’t easy, and many remaining buffalo nickels have naturally lost some key details over the years (plus, the 25-percent nickel and 75-percent copper amalgam the coins were made from was particularly prone to wear and tear). That’s why many of today’s buffalo nickels don't have a visible date.

Having a date on your buffalo nickel may increase its value, but you may be able to work with a professional to determine the year of your nickel even if it has lost that key detail.

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Buffalo nickels can range in value.

Buffalo nickels were made as five-cent coins but, in many instances, their rarity and age have given them value beyond that number. According to the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), values for buffalo nickels range from as low as $32 to as much as $5,040 or more. On the U.S. Coins and Jewelry website, there’s a 1937 three-legged buffalo nickel for sale for nearly $4,500.

Certain factors determine the value your own buffalo nickels.

Counterfeits among the rare coin collecting community are a big problem. However, if you think you have legit buffalo nickels or any other coin worth evaluating, consider using PCGS, which is largely esteemed by the coin-collecting community. Another coin-grading option is the Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC), which is based in the U.K.

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Some factors that may determine your coin’s overall value include:

  • Authenticity: Obviously, the coin must be authentic in order to have value. Fortunately, buffalo nickels aren't one of the most-counterfeited types of coin out there.

  • Date: If the date has worn off, consider seeing if you can try to restore some of it. This isn’t always possible, but it’s worth checking with a professional to determine if it’s worth the effort.

  • Refer to A Guide Book of United States Coins: Published by Whitman, this book gets reprinted every year and can help you value your own American coins.

  • Refer to eBay: What are comparable coins actually selling for in the modern market? This can help give you an estimate of how much money you could get for your buffalo nickel if it stacks up to the competition.

Ultimately, buffalo nickels range in value — but if you have the right kind, you could get some serious dough out of it.

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