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Buffalo nickel errors and varieties can be rare — and quite valuable!
Chances are you’ve heard about the 1936 and 1937 3-legged Buffalo nickels.
In this post, you’ll learn:
- All about the 3 legged Buffalo nickel varieties
- Other Buffalo nickel errors and varieties to look for
- How much Buffalo nickel errors are worth
The Buffalo Nickel Series
Issued from 1913 through 1938, Buffalo nickels were in production for a quarter century and became a beloved part of American commerce.
The Buffalo nickel is regarded by many as a romantic connection to the nation’s Old West days. The coin, designed by James Earle Fraser, shows a Native American chief on the obverse and on the reverse an American bison (some call it a buffalo) — an animal that once ruled the plains west of the Mississippi River.
Buffalo nickels are often collected by date and mintmark.
However, this can be challenging due to the rarity and price of some coins — including the scarce 1913 Type I and Type II varieties, as well as a slew of tough mintmarked pieces from the teens and early ’20s. There are also some semi-key dates from later in the series — including the 1926-S and 1931-S.
A List Of Buffalo Nickel Errors & Varieties
While a collector doesn’t have to incorporate errors and varieties to have a “complete” set of regular-issue Buffalo nickels, these coins are often included anyway.
They include the following rare Buffalo nickels:
- 1914 4 over 3
- 1916 doubled die
- 1918-D 8 over 7
- 1935 doubled die reverse
- 1936-D 3-1/2 legs
- 1937-D 3 legged
- 1938-D D over S
All of these are rare nickels worth money, and we’ll look at each of them in greater detail below.
3-Legged Buffalo Nickels
Let’s start with what is perhaps the most popular of the Buffalo nickel errors and varieties — the 3-legged Buffalo nickels.
These interesting errors stand out because of what is not obvious on the coin: the foremost leg of the buffalo on 1936 and 1937 nickels.
Why did the U.S. Mint leave off most of the bison’s front leg on these nickels?
In both cases, it was due to inadvertent overpolishing of damaged reverse dies at the Denver Mint — causing half of the front leg to become obliterated on some 1936-D nickels and nearly all of the front leg on many 1937-D nickels.
While both the 1936-D 3-1/2 legs and 1937-D 3-legged Buffalo nickels are rare coins and quite valuable, the 1936-D is far scarcer than the 1937-D error nickel.
1936-D 3-1/2 Legs Buffalo Nickel Value
The 1936 3-1/2 legs Buffalo nickel is worth a lot of money because it’s in high demand among coin collectors.
While the Denver Mint struck 24,814,000 Buffalo nickels in 1936, only a tiny fraction of those are of the 3-1/2 leg variety. Professional Coin Grading Service states that just 300 examples are known across all grades!
- A typical the 1936 3-1/2 legs nickel is worth about $1,000.
- However, values range from as low as $600 for a well-worn example in Good-4 to more than $12,000 in low Mint State grades.
- The vast majority of these coins are in the middle circulated grades of Fine to Extremely Fine.
1937-D 3-Legged Buffalo Nickel Value
Of the major Buffalo nickel varieties, the 1937-D is easily the most popular.
Unlike the similar 1936-D variety which shows only part of the buffalo’s foreleg missing, virtually the entire leg is missing on the 1937-D variety.
As with the 1936-D variety, the 1937-D three legged nickel was caused by overpolishing of the die.
While virtually all of the foreleg is absent on this variety, the fourth hoof is still visible.
You’ve got to be careful when buying this coin. Many unscrupulous people try passing off ordinary 1937-D Buffalo nickels as the 3-legged nickel error by removing the foreleg.
One important feature that a legitimate 1937-D 3-legged error coin should have is a trail of die cracks emanating from below the bison’s belly to the ground. (Some say these die chips or die cracks almost make it look like the bison is relieving itself!) If you don’t see these little die chips under the bison’s belly, you may have a fake 1937-D 3-legged nickel.
About 10,000 examples of the 1937-D 3-legged Buffalo nickel are known to exist. While it is more common than the 1936 3-1/2 legs error nickel, there is so much demand for the 1937-D 3-legged Buffalo nickel that it, too, is worth a lot of money.
- Most 1937-D Buffalo nickels are worth approximately $700.
- Some well-worn examples in Good-4 to Very Good-8 trade for $500, while uncirculated pieces are worth around $2,000 and up.
- Though scarce in all grades, the 1937-D 3-legged nickel offers many examples in Mint State grades.
Other Buffalo Nickel Varieties
In addition to the famous 1937-D 3-legged Buffalo nickel and the rare 1936-D 3-1/2 legs nickel, there are many other Buffalo nickel varieties worth looking for. These include the following:
1914 4 Over 3
How was the 1913 4 Over 3 variety created? Most likely it was born from the 1913 master die being punched by a hub bearing the 1914 date. The stronger the overdate, the more an example is worth. Doubling is evident on the numerals of the date and the upper back part of the “3” shows clearly under behind into the right of the top of the “4.” Perhaps fewer than 500 examples of the strong 1914/3 overdate Buffalo nickel exist and are worth around $900 and up.
1916 Doubled Die
The most popular Buffalo nickel doubled die is this 1916 variety. The doubling is extremely obvious on the obverse in the date numerals. Only a few hundred examples survive and the vast majority are well circulated. Even the most well-worn 1916 doubled die Buffalo nickels are worth $5,000 or more!
1918-D 8 Over 7
Yet another overdate variety exists among Buffalo nickels, and that’s the 1918/7 nickel error. Considered an important rarity among 20th-century United States coins and certainly one of the most in-demand, the 1918 8 over 7 Buffalo nickel as discovered in the early 1930s when some numismatists spotted a “7” running clearly under the “8” in the date.
Only a few thousand are known, mostly in circulated condition. The 1918 8 over 7 Buffalo nickel value is around $2,000 and up.
1935 Doubled Die Reverse
This rather obscure Buffalo nickel doubled die error variety is rare, with only a few hundred pieces known, yet it isn’t widely collected. Doubling on this coin is found on the reverse most prominently in the words “FIVE CENTS” near the bottom of the coin. Values range from about $75 on up for a typical well-circulated example.
1938-D D Over S
The 1938-D D over S mintmark Buffalo nickel is a distinct though fairly common variety most sought after by series specialists. It’s scarce though by no means rare. In circulated condition this overmintmark error variety is worth about $10 and up.
This video has good pictures of each of the above Buffalo nickel varieties:
What About Buffalo Nickels With No Date?
Many collectors want to know what their dateless Buffalo nickels are worth. The thinking is that the dateless Buffalo nickels are some type of error.
Unfortunately, Buffalo nickels with no date aren’t error coins. They’re just excessively worn.
Most dateless Buffalo nickels are worth 25 to 50 cents each.
Tips For Finding Buffalo Nickel Errors & Varieties
Since Buffalo nickels are old coins, you’re going to have a tough time finding them in pocket change. They still show up from time to time, but not often.
So how do you locate rare coins like these Buffalo nickel errors and varieties if you can’t find them in everyday change? You’ve got to be crafty!
One way people find old Buffalo nickels worth money is by checking bank rolls and boxes of coins from the bank.
Another option is to visit a coin dealer. Now, of course you can buy these Buffalo nickel errors from them for market price. But if you don’t want to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to buy rare Buffalo nickels, you can engage in some cherrypicking.
Cherrypicking is when a savvy collector searches for (and finds!) overlooked errors and die varieties labeled and priced as “normal” coins. It happens all the time!
You can gain knowledge on what to look for by reading articles like this one. That way, you’ll become much better at picking out error coins and varieties from normal damaged coins that are worth little to nothing over face value.
IMPORTANT: Do You Know The Grade Of Your Nickel?
To determine the true value of your Buffalo nickel, you first need to know what condition (or grade) your coin is in.
Grab a coin magnifier and a copy of the U.S. Coin Grading Standards book. Then, watch this video to see how to grade coins yourself at home:
I’m the Coin Editor here at TheFunTimesGuide. My love for coins began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I’m a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) and have won multiple awards from the NLG for my work as a coin journalist. I’m also the editor at the Florida United Numismatists Club (FUN Topics magazine), and author of Images of America: The United States Mint in Philadelphia (a book that explores the colorful history of the Philadelphia Mint). I’ve contributed hundreds of articles for various coin publications including COINage, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, Coin Dealer Newsletter, Coin Values, and CoinWeek. I’ve authored nearly 1,000 articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins (many of them with over 50K shares), and I welcome your coin questions in the comments below!