February 24, 2021

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CAC Coins For less Than $150 Each, Part 2: Buffalo Nickels

by Greg Reynolds

Published on February 12, 2021

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Many collectors will be surprised to learn that a collection of CAC-approved Buffalo nickels can be assembled for less than $150 per coin.

Editorial Authentication Collectors U.S. Coins



Although I have been analyzing sales of CAC approved coins since CAC was founded in 2007, I was surprised to find that a substantial part of a CAC-only set of Buffalo nickels by date may be completed without spending more than $150 on any one coin. A collector may enjoy collecting inexpensive CAC approved Buffalo nickels and/or decide to later spend much more money to complete a CAC-only set.

It is educational to obtain and examine CAC approved coins. Each has been seen by at least two graders at PCGS or NGC, viewed by a screener at CAC and then finalized by John Albanese.

In the realm of CAC approved coins, there is little downside risk in regard to spending less than $150 on each coin. It is demonstrated in this discussion that a substantial number of low-cost, CAC approved Buffalo nickels, including many Denver and San Francisco Mint dates, have been available over the last three years.

Prices realized in recognized auctions and public internet sales are listed because these are results that are easy to access and are generally believed to have been reliably reported. Undoubtedly, other CAC approved Buffalo nickels have sold privately for amounts below $150 each.

It is not implied that buyers of inexpensive Buffalo nickels should necessarily purchase them in public sales. Honest, competent dealers may be very useful to collectors, and CAC approved Buffalo nickels often trade privately. Prices realized in public sales from 2018 to 2020 are cited to provide a general idea of the costs and availability of inexpensive, CAC approved Buffalo nickels. Prices for Buffalo nickels have trended downward from 2018 to 2020, though not by very much.

No specific coin is being recommended here. There is no guarantee that collectors will be able to buy CAC approved coins for the prices realized or value estimates cited herein. This discussion is intended to be an educational resource, not a detailed collecting plan.

An underlying theme is that collectors may learn about CAC approved coins, acquire many classic U.S. coins, and have fun, without spending a large sum of money. As for the meaning, nature and benefits of CAC, I urge collectors to read my article (The Unheralded Role of CAC in Reducing Risk) in the August 2019 issue of this publication (Volume I: No. 1, page 5).


buffalo nickels

A trio of CAC-Approved Buffalo nickels that sold for under $150 at Heritage Auctions


Curiously, CAC is not as popular among collectors of Buffalo nickels as CAC is among collectors of gold coins or Walking Liberty half dollars. Collectors seeking to build CAC-only sets of Buffalo nickels may be discouraged by the relatively low populations of CAC approved coins for some dates in the series. It is important to keep in mind, however, that there are still thousands of PCGS and NGC graded Buffalo nickels that have never been submitted to CAC. In many cases, the costs of certification, including shipping, amount to a significant percentage of the value of the respective Buffalo nickel.

If more collectors demand CAC approved, relatively low-cost Buffalo nickels, then more Buffalo nickels will be submitted to CAC by dealers. In the present, however, collectors seeking CAC approved Buffalo nickels tend towards the coins that cost thousands of dollars, key dates or gem quality representatives of better dates. Common date nickels and better dates that grade below MS63 are not often approved by CAC, partly because few of these are submitted for certification. It is curious that such a small number of sub-63 grade 1913 Type One Buffalo nickels are CAC approved, just twelve sub-63 grade Type One 1913 nickels and merely five Type One 1913-D nickels. A Type One Buffalo nickel is a requirement for a type set of nickels, a type set of 20th century coins or a type set of classic U.S. coins overall.

There are two design types of Buffalo nickels, the first of which was minted only in 1913. In the design of Buffalo nickels of the first type, the buffalo is standing on a mound and the two words of the denomination, FIVE CENTS, are on that same mound. On the second type, the buffalo is standing on a plateau. The two words of the denomination, FIVE CENTS, are in a field below this plateau, really in exergue. As of November 4, 2020, the CAC population of Type One 1913 Philadelphia Mint Buffalo nickels was 935. None of these grade below AU58.

On January 15, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC approved MS64 grade Type One 1913 for $89. All the coins mentioned here were graded by PCGS or NGC and then later approved by CAC.

On May 13, 2018, the firm of David Lawrence sold a different CAC MS64 Type One 1913 for $75. On September 30, 2020, Stack’s-Bowers sold a CAC MS65 Type One 1913 for $120.

CAC has approved just 334 Type One 1913-D Buffalo nickels. In April 2017, Heritage sold a CAC approved MS64 Type One 1913-D Buffalo nickel for $129.25. On September 26, 2018, GreatCollections sold a different CAC approved MS64 Type One 1913-D Buffalo nickel for $118.12.

The Type One 1913-S is scarcer than the Type One 1913-D. On February 10, 2019, the firm of David Lawrence sold a CAC approved AU58 grade Type One 1913-S Buffalo nickel for $150.   

As many people saved Buffalo nickels when they were first issued, Type Two 1913 nickels are much scarcer than Type One 1913 nickels in mint state grades. There is more demand among collectors, however, for Type One 1913 Buffalo nickels than for Type Two 1913 coins as a later date Type Two Buffalo nickel would be sufficient for a type set.

On July 7, 2019, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved MS64 grade, Type Two 1913 Buffalo nickel for $100.12. In August 2020, Heritage sold a CAC approved, F15 grade, Type Two 1913-D Buffalo nickel for $132. It is unlikely that a collector could buy a CAC approved Type Two 1913-S for less than $150. On July 14, 2019, GreatCollections sold a CAC MS64 1914 for $147.38. While I am not aware of any CAC approved 1914-D nickels selling publicly for less than $150, it is worth noting that Heritage sold a CAC XF45 1914-D for $180 on November 20, 2018.

In theory, all CAC approved 1914-D nickels that grade less than VF20 should cost less than $150. CAC, though, has approved just four 1914-D nickels in grades below VF20.

On June 26, 2018, Heritage sold a CAC approved XF40 grade 1914-S for $94. I continue to maintain that Extremely Fine grade Buffalo nickels are good values for collectors. These tend to have almost as much detail as mint state Buffalo nickels, which tend to not be all that sharp anyway.

Also, Extremely Fine grade Buffalo nickels are often characterized by truly natural gray and russet tones. Mint state Buffalo nickels are frequently artificially toned with the idea of misleading typical coin buyers and experts. In July 2017, Heritage sold a CAC MS64 1915 nickel for $114. In November 2017, GreatCollections sold a CAC MS63 1915 for $74.25.

Over the last three years, the lowest public sale price for a 1915-D with a CAC sticker was the $185 price realized for an AU55 grade coin in a sale by David Lawrence that ended on July 28, 2019. In grades below AU50, CAC has approved just three 1915-D nickels. Circulated 1915-D nickels must be around, as the 1915-D is not a rare date.

The 1915-S is a much better date. There are four 1915-S nickels that are CAC approved in grades below VF25, each of which has a retail value below $150 according to CPG® estimates.

On October 18, 2020, GreatCollections sold a CAC MS62 1916 nickel for $69.90 and a CAC MS64 1916 for $129.43. On March 27, 2018, Heritage sold a CAC MS60 1916-D for $114. On January 28, 2020, Heritage sold a CAC AU55 1916-S for $127.20. On July 24, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC AU58 1916-S for $144.

On February 18, 2018, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved MS63 grade 1917 nickel for $118.29. On June 16, 2019, GreatCollections sold a CAC XF40 1917-D nickel for $144.

The CPG® guide indicates that all CAC approved 1917-S nickels that grade below XF40 are estimated to be worth less than $150 each. Only three 1917-S nickels, however, are CAC approved in grades below XF40.

Just a small number of 1918 nickels have been CAC approved, eighty-eight as of November 4, 2020. These are very common. In regard to the thousands of 1918 nickels that survive, CAC fees and postage would be greater than the market values of most of them, so they are rarely submitted.

Over the last three years, zero CAC approved 1918, 1918-D, 1918-S, 1919, 1919-D, 1919-S, 1920, 1920-D, 1920-S, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1924-D, 1924-S, 1925-D and 1926-D nickels have sold publicly for less than $150, as far as I know. In theory, CAC approved low-grade circulated representatives of these dates retail for much less than $150 each, but only a small number of circulated survivors of these dates have been submitted to CAC. Part of the fun of seeking CAC approved circulated Buffalo nickels stems from the reality that there are so few around. The 1921-S is certainly one of the scarcer better dates in the series. On May 19, 2019, the firm of David Lawrence sold a CAC VG8 1921-S for $80.

The 1923-S is also a better date, though not nearly as scarce as the 1921-S. On September 6, 2020, David Lawrence sold a CAC VF20 1923-S for $81.

On June 16, 2019, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved VF35 1925-S nickel for $72. On October 24, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC XF40 1925-S for $151.20. On October 18, 2020, GreatCollections sold a CAC MS64 1926 nickel for $119.62. The 1926-S is a famous date, largely because gem grade 1926-S nickels have brought astonishing sums in auctions. In April 2008, Spectrum-B&M auctioned an NGC graded MS66 1926-S for $322,000. Circulated 1926-S nickels cost just small fractions of the values of gem 1926-S nickels.

The firm of David Lawrence sold the same CAC approved VF20 grade 1926-S for $130 on March 29, 2020 and for $150 on April 19, 2020. On May 17, 2020, GreatCollections sold a CAC approved VF25 grade 1926-S for $146.25. Quite a few CAC approved nickels from the late 1920s have publicly sold for less than $150 each. Collectors with patience may acquire some.

On January 15, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC MS64 1927 for $114. On December 1, 2019, David Lawrence sold a CAC MS63 1927 for $85. Back in 2014, GreatCollections sold a CAC XF40 1927-S for $148.50. On October 2, 2018, Heritage sold a PCGS graded MS64+ 1928 nickel, which was CAC approved at the MS64 level, for $89. Experts at CAC ignore the plus aspects of plus grades assigned by PCGS or NGC, so this 1928 is CAC approved as MS64, not as MS64+. On June 18, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC approved MS64 1928-D for $132. In January 2018, Heritage sold a CAC approved MS64 1929 for $94. On August 16, 2020, GreatCollections sold a CAC MS63 1929-D nickel for $112.50. In July 2017, Heritage sold a CAC approved MS64 1929-S for $144. In January 2017, Heritage sold a CAC MS63 1929-S for $104.

On June 18, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC approved MS66 1930 for $144. On June 14, 2020, GreatCollections sold a CAC MS63 1930-S for $96.75. On August 4, 2019, David Lawrence sold a CAC MS64 1931-S for $135.

There are no Buffalo nickels dated 1932 or 1933, and also none dated 1922. On October 24, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC approved MS64 1934 nickel for $84. On December 15, 2019, GreatCollections sold a CAC MS64 1934-D for $118.12. On December 31, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC MS65 1935 Buffalo nickel for $79. On January 16, 2017, Heritage sold a CAC MS63 1935-D nickel for $101.

On October 2, 2018, Heritage sold a CAC MS64 1935-S for $74. On September 27, 2020, GreatCollections sold a CAC MS66 1936 for $84.38.

On December 31, 2019, Heritage sold a a CAC MS65 1936-D for $81. On October 2, 2018, Heritage sold a CAC approved MS65 1936-S for $74. On December 31, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC MS66 1937 for $81.

On February 12, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC MS65 1937-D for $84. On January 15, 2019, Heritage sold a CAC MS65 1937-S for $61.

There are a very large number of CAC approved 1938-D Buffalo nickels that have publicly sold for much less than $150 each during the last three years. It would not make sense to list them here.

After a collector buys several or even a dozen CAC approved Buffalo nickels for less than $150 each, he or she should decide whether to budget much more money in order to build a set of Buffalo nickels or to move on to a different collecting project. Such a decision depends upon the coin related experiences, personal financial situation, and preferences of the individual collector.

Copyright ©2020 Greg Reynolds
Insightful10@gmail.com
Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com



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